Comfort and Joy
is a soothing and graceful collection of twelve traditional and three original Christmas songs arranged for solo piano by St. Louis pianist/composer Philip Wesley. Wesley idolizes David Lanz, and his influence is strongly felt on many of the tracks. A professional musical therapist in a hospital setting, Wesley knows firsthand the healing power of music and taps into that power to great effect on this CD. More reflective than celebratory, Comfort and Joy
conveys more of a quiet peacefulness than a party spirit, similar to David Lanz’s “Christmas Eve” (1994). Wesley is faithful to the melodies, but adds personal interpretations and improvisations that make the music fresh and interesting (not an easy thing to do for the ears of a full-time piano teacher and reviewer who listens to a LOT of Christmas music every year!).
The CD opens with a sweet medley of “Brahms’ Lullaby” and “Away in a Manger.” The melodies of both songs are interwoven with original passages, making this an unusual arrangement that works beautifully. “Joy to the World” opens with a passage from David Lanz’s arrangement from his “Christmas Eve” album and alternates with a more flowing, dreamy improvisation. Lanz’s theme has a lot of energy and enthusiasm, so the combination is very interesting. “Silent Night” has a gentle peacefulness that is both graceful and delicate - I love this arrangement! I also really like “We Three Kings,” which is a piece that can adapt to a wide variety of treatments. This one has a flowing rubato feeling - the melody is there, but the rhythm is a little different, making the song feel new. “O Christmas Tree” has one of the simplest melodies of the traditional Christmas songs, but Wesley has fleshed it out a bit and added some new touches that give it a gentle flow that is both reflective and reverent. “Carol of the Bells” is probably my favorite Christmas song, and it can also handle a wide variety of musical styles. This one is a bit different in that it is very quiet and pensive with lots of open spaces. It does pick up the pace somewhat in places, but maintains a graceful dignity throughout - a beautiful arrangement! “Greensleeves/What Child Is This?” first appeared on Wesley’s album “In a Lifetime,” but this is a new recording of the piece. On the earlier album, I didn’t like that the piece turned into an energetic gallop with a big glissando. The gallop and glissando are still there on this recording, but are a bit more restrained and in keeping with the original song itself. I like this version much better. Two of the original pieces, the title track and “In the Eyes of a Child” were also on “In a Lifetime,” and are beautiful to hear again. “Wishing For Home” was composed for this album, and is a nostalgic, bittersweet piece that is deeply personal and emotional, as well a poignant reminder that the holidays aren’t the happiest of times for a lot of people.
Comfort and Joy
is a wonderful Christmas album that will be welcomed year after year. It is available from philipwesley.com