Christmas Remembered: Classic Holiday Chamber Music, featuring Judith Lynn Stillman and friends (North Star Records).
Judith Stillman, the youngest musician ever admitted to Juilliard’s doctoral program, gathered instrumentalist friends from groups as diverse as the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Charleston String Quartet, and the Apple Hill Chamber Players to record Christmas standards in the chamber style.
The sound often devolves into the sort of cheery piano-cum-strings background music one expects to hear at elegant receptions. Reinforcing that image are classical standards not strictly for the season: Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze,” Pachelbel’s ubiquitous Canon in D, and Schumann’s “Träumerei.”
But the album reaches beyond high-class easy listening in several inventive arrangements, blending classical favorites with familiar carol tunes: The Paganini-Liszt Étude is wed to “Deck the Halls”; a Brahms Intermezzo provides the counterpoint for “Silent Night”; and—most delightful—Paradies’s Toccata is seasoned lightly with “Ding Dong Merrily on High.”
In a day when recordings are made in different sessions and scattered places only to be mixed later in the studio, the natural acoustic sound of this album is refreshing. We wish Stillman so merry a Christmas that she will not be able to resist gathering friends for still more seasonal music-making.
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