2023 / Ryan Marvel Music
Review by Kathy Parsons
A new album from pianist/composer Ryan Marvel is always a special treat and his new seasonal album, Winter III, is no exception! The sixteen tracks on the album include Ryan's arrangements of thirteen Christmas carols and songs - some very familiar and some that are lesser-known - plus a three-movement original work called "Winter Solstice Miniatures for Cello and Piano" that features Heidi Mausbach on cello. It's interesting to note that the Christmas music dates from the 16th century to 1962 and yet the album flows seamlessly from one piece to the next. None of the arrangements are flashy or showy, but all are played to perfection in Ryan's deeply personal, heartfelt style, often giving new meaning to the songs. The album was recorded, mixed and mastered by Joe Bongiorno at Piano Haven Studios in Sedona, assuring that the piano sound is exceptional. This is Ryan's ninth album (plus many singles) to date.
Winter III begins with a beautiful and light-hearted arrangement of JS Bach's immortal "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." Updated yet true to the original, it sets a warm and gentle tone for the album. "Deck the Hall" has a very light, flowing setting that makes it bright and new yet instantly recognizable. "Noel Nouvelet" is an old French carol also known as "Sing We Now of Christmas," Ryan's arrangement expresses a beautiful, gentle grace. "Do You Hear What I Hear?" has become a modern classic over the past sixty years, and this arrangement is delicate and heartfelt. It has always amazed me how easily "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" adapts to a wide variety of musical genres and styles, and Ryan's arrangement has a gentle yet compelling energy that I love. You can almost see snow sparkling as moonlight dances on its surface! I've always loved "I Wonder As I Wander," and Ryan keeps the bittersweet melody simple and haunting. "I Saw Three Ships" returns to a lively, joyful dance played mostly in the upper half of the piano keyboard - sure to bring a smile! "The Holly and the Ivy" is another one of my favorites, and Ryan's arrangement is delicate and heartfelt, tinged with melancholy. Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria" has one of the most beautiful melodies ever created, and Ryan brings that out with a simple accompaniment that makes it all the more meaningful.
As I mentioned, the album includes Ryan's original "Winter Solstice Miniatures for Cello and Piano," a three-movement work he composed in 2019. The first movement is "The Changing Light" which showcases the wonderful contrasting sounds of the smooth cello and the sparkling brightness of the piano in the upper octaves of the keyboard - shadow and light, sun and moon. The second movement is called "Wind," part of which is played with some of the piano strings muted, probably with Ryan's hand. It begins with a very spare piano part that soon picks up the tempo as the cello enters with its own energy, sometimes bowed and sometimes pizzicato - another truly exceptional piece! The third movement and final track on the album is "The Long Sleep," a graceful lullaby for winter as nature takes a break to rest and ready for the coming spring. Peaceful, still and incredibly graceful, it's the perfect close to a great album!
Winter III can be purchased as a CD or download from Ryan's website, and is also available from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and streaming sites including Spotify. A songbook will be released at the same time, and can be purchased as a spiral-bound book or a PDF download (I will be reviewing the songbook as well!). This is a wonderful album and I highly recommend it!
November 20, 2023
with The Outlaw Ocean Music Project