I have to preface this review by saying that, as a piano teacher, I am inundated with Christmas music from the end of October through the holidays, so I do not make it a habit to seek out Christmas albums. Once in awhile one comes along that is so good that I enjoy listening to it despite being “up to here” in “Jingle Bells”. Christmastide
is such an album. The selection of pieces includes some standard traditional pieces, some original works, and an assortment of unusual pieces from around the world. Julie Rivers’ incredible piano soars above accompanying choirs, flute, harp, strings, and synthesized orchestrations. While classical in tradition, the arrangements are so fresh and sparkling that they take on new life. The pairing of the haunting “Coventry Carol” with the sweet “Away in A Manger” is a perfect medley. “Still, Still, Still” is given tender treatment in a gorgeous arrangement. Then there is a grouping of four carols from Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and Poland that range from gentle to rousing. “I Wonder As I Wander” , an Appalachian hymn, is darkly beautiful with an almost bluesy/Gershwin feel. “God Gave Us Life”, composed by Randy Willis, is a wonderful new piece with a simple but heartfelt melody. “Baby Jesus, Sleeping Softly” was composed by Julie’s son, Art, at the age of eight - what a sweet treasure! Julie’s original “How Many Angels” is my favorite piece on this excellent CD - truly too beautiful for words. The CD closes with an incredible duet of Gounod’s “Ave Maria” played by Art Rivers on violin over Julie Rivers playing the Bach “Prelude in C” on piano - an amazing piece that should elevate anyone’s heart and spirit with its beauty.
I am so excited to have discovered this wonderful pianist! This and her other recordings are available from Earth Star Records at earthstarrecordings.com