The Wonder of Christmas
2015 / Rhonda Mackert
Review by Kathy Parsons
The Wonder of Christmas is a collection of eleven traditional and two original Christmas carols arranged for solo piano and performed by Rhonda Mackert. Mackert’s arrangements are light and gentle, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and expressing the joy of the holiday season. Rhonda often adds original interludes between the verses, giving the songs a fresh take without straying too far from the traditional melodies. Recorded at Piano Haven Studio on Joe Bongiorno’s wonderful Shigeru Kawai grand, the piano sound is warm cozy while Mackert’s frequent visits to the upper end of the keyboard suggest twinkling lights and flickering candles. With her nimble fingers and light, graceful touch, Mackert brings a lovely and welcome contribution to the large genre of piano Christmas music. A companion songbook will be available soon.
The Wonder of Christmas begins with a lively version of “Joy to the World.” Dancing and swirling around the piano keyboard, it expresses the jubilation of the season. “The First Noel” is also bright and cheerful and has a somewhat unusual, upbeat rhythm that is almost giddy with joy. I really like Mackert’s arrangement of “Deck the Halls.” Much of it is played in the upper registers of the piano with a flowing left hand pattern that just keeps moving and reminds me of a music box. (Having proofed the sheet music, I can say that this piece is as much fun to play as it is listen to!) “Silent Night” also begins at the high end of the piano, suggesting moonlight on new snow and a perfect peace. “Sing We Now of Christmas” isn’t as well-known as some of the songs in the collection, but I love it and Mackert’s arrangement is lively yet poignant. (This piece also appears on the new Christmas Whisperings 2 album.) “Coventry Carol” can be a heartbreaker, but Mackert has lightened it a bit and made it somewhat more lively - touching and beautiful rather than bleak and tragic. “What Child Is This” is quite unusual - almost bluesy in spots while it is graceful and flowing in other sections - it works! The title song is one of the two original compositions. The up-tempo and flowing left hand and playful right make this a magical piece that expresses joy, innocence, and warmth - definitely a favorite! “Hymn For Winter” is the second original piece and is quite different from the title track. The blocked chords at the beginning and end are very hymn-like, but the middle, main themes suggest the beauty and stillness of winter and the promise of renewal - I really like this one, too! “Huron Carol” has become a favorite of mine over the past several years. A bit on the darker, more mysterious side, it is considered to be Canada’s oldest Christmas song, written in about 1642. Mackert’s arrangement is beautiful and haunting. The album closes with a lovely arrangement of “Christ Child’s Lullaby,” a traditional Celtic carol that overflows with warmth and love.
The Wonder of Christmas would be a delightful addition to anyone’s collection of Christmas music. It creates and light, warm atmosphere as background music, but is substantial enough to enjoy with full concentration. It is available from Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Recommended!
November 2, 2015