The Wondrous Gift
is pianist Jeff Bjorck’s own “wondrous gift” to lovers of traditional Christmas music - especially solo piano Christmas music. As he did with his previous release, This I Know: Ageless Hymns of Faith
, Bjorck has created his own arrangements and personal interpretations of hymns we all grew up with while remaining true to the original songs. Bjorck’s extensive liner notes explain the origins of many of the pieces and what they mean to him as well as why he occasionally took a somewhat different approach to a piece than what we might normally expect. This CD should please those who love fresh solo piano arrangements as well as those who want the melodies left intact - not an easy balance, but I think Bjorck has achieved it. Knowing Bjorck’s background in theology, it is no surprise that the twelve carols are sacred pieces - no “Jingle Bells” or “Frosty, the Snowman.”
The Wondrous Gift
begins with “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” gently arranged to reflect the stillness of the carol and calling to mind the quiet night and humble setting of Jesus’ birth. “O Holy Night” is often played and sung as an almost tragic story, but while Bjorck’s version is reverent, it also conveys joyous anticipation - an especially beautiful arrangement. “O Come All Ye Faithful” is bright and upbeat, expressing excitement at the Savior’s birth. “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” is often one of the rousing celebratory hymns, but Bjorck softened the approach to also reflect the humility of the baby - also exceptional. “Silent Night” is slowed and simplified to suggest perfectly the silence of falling nighttime snow. “Away In a Manger” is often the first Christmas song a child learns to sing, so Bjorck gave this arrangement a feeling of innocence and childlike joy. He has merged two of the many melodies that go with this piece, creating a lovely medley. “Coventry Carol” used to be a puzzle for me in that as much as I have always loved the song, it always sounds mournful. It was actually written to honor the baby boys that King Herod had killed shortly after Jesus’ birth. Bjorck’s arrangement conveys this tragic event with respect for the loss of these children and great empathy for what the parents must have endured. Very dark and absolutely gorgeous. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is one of the earliest Christmas carols, and although it also sounds very sad, the words speak of joyous hope. Bjorck’s arrangement is captivating. “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” ends this wonderful CD with the most exuberant and joyful of the songs.
Jeff Bjorck has been one of my favorite artists since his debut thirteen years ago, and The Wondrous Gift
will be a favorite Christmas album for many years to come. It is available from www.purepiano.com
, Amazon, and CD Baby, and will be available soon from iTunes. Very highly recommended!