2006 / Maria Russell
Review by Kathy Parsons
Heavenly Magic is a collection of twelve Christmas pieces (some of which are medleys, bringing the total to sixteen songs) performed by pianist Maria Russell. A classically-trained pianist, Russell has been performing in the Las Vegas area for more than seventeen years and that “showy” nightclub influence can be heard on this album. A few tracks have bells and/or a rhythm track, but this is mostly a solo piano collection of favorite holiday music.
The CD begins with bells from Cathedrale St. Etienne in Limoges, France as a prelude to a medley of “Carol of the Bells” and “Away in a Manger.” It’s an effective piece, although I prefer the simple innocence of “Away in a Manger” to the trills and bravado in this arrangement. “Star of Hope” is a beautifully elegant medley of “We Three Kings” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Dark, yet hopeful, these two pieces work well together, and Russell’s interpretation is heartfelt and passionate. “Silent Night” is given kind of a slow jazz treatment that is quite different. Dark and pensive, the left hand is often deep into the bass of the piano, giving the song more weight than you usually hear - an interesting twist! “O Holy Night” is dramatic and powerful with keyboard washes adding color here and there. “A Christmas Gift” by Dino Kartsonakis and Nathan Di Gesare is new to me and has a gorgeous melody and flow. Russell imbues “White Christmas” with longing and nostalgia. “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” is playful and full of fun. It is paired with “Sleigh Ride,” complete with sleigh bells. “An Old Israeli Christmas Carol” is a musical surprise. Played fast and in a traditional Jewish dark minor key, it is “Jingle Bells” gone mad. Sure to bring a big smile! The closing track is Jose Feliciano’s classic “Feliz Navidad,” played with a rhythm track that probably doesn’t need to be there, although it adds spirit and a festive feeling.
Heavenly Magic is a great choice for those who like solo piano with a big full sound and some fancy finger work. It is available from cdbaby.com.
October 9, 2006