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Album Review: How Far Is It To Bethlehem?
William Ogmundson
Cover image of the album How Far Is It To Bethlehem? by William Ogmundson
How Far Is It To Bethlehem?
William Ogmundson
2010 / William Ogmundson
34 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
How Far Is It To Bethlehem? is not a new Christmas album for 2018, but it is new to me and is just too good to not share. The seventeen piano solos on the album are a collection of carols and songs that pianist/composer/arranger William Ogmundson has come to love over the years. That love is apparent in all of the songs, which range from sacred to secular to excerpts from The Nutcracker. Stylistically, there is a big variety - from playful and fun to ragtime to stately to breathtakingly beautiful. A few of the tracks are medleys, which brings the song count up to twenty. One piece is original, and the others were arranged by Ogmundson except the four Nutcracker excerpts. Three of the tracks are piano duets that were created in the studio by overdubbing. Wow! That takes some precision! Being a piano teacher as well as a reviewer, I hear more Christmas music than most people do, and it can be difficult to impress me with a Christmas album, but this one is an absolute winner!

How Far Is It To Bethlehem? begins with “Divinum Mysterium,” a 13th century plainsong that I was not familiar with. Quiet and reverent, it’s a wonderful opening prelude. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “What Child Is This?” are two of my favorite carols, and this combination is gorgeous. Elegant and flowing without getting too “fancy,” it’s a heartfelt arrangement that I love. Next up is a playful version of “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!” that is just about as happy as it can get. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is the first of the three duets. Played with an “old timey” innocence, this arrangement is both fun and poignant. “Angels We Have Heard On High” is a tour de force. Played in a variety of Baroque forms, each verse has a style of its own and could be how JS Bach would have played it! “Christmas Waltz” is the original piece and fits right in with the familiar songs. “Jingle Bells,” one of the duets, begins simply in classical style before going full-out ragtime - sure to bring a big smile! The title song is combined with the haunting “Coventry Carol” and two of the many melodies for “Away in a Manger” to make a beautiful medley. “We Three Kings” is one of my favorite carols - at least in part because it is so adaptable to a variety of styles. Ogmundson’s arrangement is dark, dramatic and very emotional. Love it! The four pieces in “A Mini-Nutcracker Suite” were arranged by Stepan Esipoff and include “March,” “Dance of the Candy Fairy,” “Russian Dance,” and “Chinese Dance” - all played to perfection. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” can be a real heartbreaker, and this version starts out that way. One of the duets, it begins rather simply, but hold onto your hats for the second half! What a joyful blast of Christmas merriment! Ogmundson cools things down a bit to close with a gentle version of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.”

So, if you’re looking for a solo piano Christmas album with exceptional arrangements and masterful playing plus a variety of songs, check this one out! How Far Is It To Bethlehem? is available from www.WilliamOgmundson.com, Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Even a Grinch will like this one!
October 2, 2018
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