2020 / Rick Sparks
Review by Kathy Parsons
Christmas Night is a beautiful and very peaceful collection of ten Christmas songs arranged and performed by pianist/composer Rick Sparks (two of the ten are original compositions). Most of these songs are from the 19th century and are a lovely mix of familiar carols and ones that aren’t so familiar. Instrumentation includes bells, strings, flutes, piano and choral voices (no lyrics). Over the past several years, Sparks has established a reputation for creating gently relaxing, often soul-stirring instrumental music that is immediately accessible yet complex enough to enjoy over and over.
Quoting Rick Sparks: “When I began production on Christmas Night in February 2020, little did I know how the world would soon be changed forever. As the months slowly passed and the pandemic worsened, the songs of Christmas Night became a refuge and comfort to my soul. I became convinced that they would do the same for every listener, and that became this album's mission.”
Christmas Night begins with the title song, one of the two originals. It begins with sparkling bells playing the main theme, adding strings on the second verse and then an angelic choir. The effect is magical! “Christ Is Born” was “discovered” by Perry Como in 1964 when he heard it sung by the Sistine Chapel choir while visiting Rome. He had the song translated into English and sang it on his televised Christmas special that year. The Carpenters also recorded the song for their 1978 Christmas album. Sparks’ arrangement includes bells, strings and choir - so beautiful! Angelic voices with strings, bells, and flute send “The First Noel” heavenward. Inspired by the classic Charlie Brown Christmas Special of 1964, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” begins and ends with an a cappella choir. Strings support the voices throughout the rest of the song. “In the Bleak Midwinter” has become very popular over the past several years, and Sparks’ piano arrangement is gorgeous. Strings and voices fill in here and there, but this is mostly a piano arrangement. “What Child Is This?” (“Greensleeves”) is always one of my favorites and Sparks’ arrangement with strings, voices and bells is both graceful and haunting. “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly” is a Polish carol that dates back to the 13th century. Sparks gives it the feeling of a gentle lullaby with flute, bells and voices taking turns with the melody, backed by strings. This album was inspired in part by the King’s College Christmas Eve service, which always begins with one boy singing the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City.” Strings and additional young voices perform the rest of this song. “Silent Night” is quite possibly the best-loved Christmas carol ever and this version is a little slower than usual, performed on flute, strings, voices and piano - profound in its simplicity. The last track, “Nativity,” is the second Sparks original. It was inspired by the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams and is arranged for voices and strings - a reverent and heartfelt close to a very beautiful Christmas album.
Christmas Night is available from Amazon, Apple Music, Spotify and other streaming sites.
November 25, 2020