Imagine Christmas (2017)

Gruber, Martin, Traditional, Guaraldi, Gillespie, Hills, Blake, MARKS, Berlin, Tchaikovsky, Nelson

Various Artists

You will be aware of three striking elements on this record, from the minute you press play. The first is the quality of the performances. These are top-level musicians bringing their same superlative artistry to Christmas favorites that they do to a Schubert quartet or Taverner score. The second is the sterling quality of the recording. If there is a sonic equivalent to sipping a hot toddy while curled up before a roaring fire, it is Sono Lumi- nus’s peerless mixes and captures. Third–and in every way as essential as the previous two–this is a kaleidoscopic collection of styles and interpretations of beloved songs and carols that keeps me eager for the next number. If you’re like me, four tracks in to just about any single artist’s Christmas album, I am ready to move on. With such a fetching variety of artists and approaches, I find myself going top-to-tail on this one.
Simplicity is an underrated avenue when it comes to holiday releases, so the entries by Irina Muresanu & Matei Varga, Bruce Levingston, Kathryn Bates, and Skylark Vocal Ensemble are a breath of proverbial fresh air. Muresanu’s seductive playing is a glimpse into the golden age of violin technique–lush vibrato and delicious sentimentality, which infuses “White Christmas” with every bit of nostalgia one could hope for. One can imagine twirling 19th century gowns in Levingston’s solo piano rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “Christmas,” with frictionless phrasing that plays like freshly sharpened skates on virgin ice. Heading over to cellist Kathryn Bates’s reimagining of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” we are tucked into a bed of extravagant resonance, spinning arpeggios, and all the anticipation and delightful impatience of a child for whom morning cannot arrive soon enough. And of course, Skylark. I’ve still got their devastatingly gorgeous album Crossing Over (DSL-92200) in regular rotation, and with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” this chamber choir presents an intoxicating wistfulness that will find the listener awaking to find herself gazing out an ice-encrusted window when the final notes fade

 

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American Contemporary Music Ensemble

Led by Artistic Director and cellist Clarice Jensen, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) is dedicated to the outstanding performance of masterworks from the 20th and 21st centuries, primarily the work of American composers. The flexible ensemble presents fresh work by living composers alongside the classics of the contemporary. ACME’s dedication to new music extends across genres, and has earned them a reputation among both classical and rock crowds. NPR calls them contemporary music dynamos,” and The New York Times describes ACME’s performances as “vital,” “brilliant,” and “electrifying.” Time Out New York reports, “Jensen has earned a sterling reputation for her fresh, inclusive mix of minimalists, maximalists, eclectics and newcomers.” ACME was honored by ASCAP during its 10th anniversary season in 2015 for the “virtuosity, passion, and commitment with which it performs and champions American composers.” World premieres given by ACME include Ingram Marshall’s Psalmbook, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Drone Mass, Caroline Shaw's Ritornello, Phil Kline's Out Cold, William Brittelle's Loving the Chambered Nautilus, Jefferson Friedman’s On In Love, Timo Andres’ Senior and Thrive on Routine, Caleb Burhans’ Jahrzeit, and many more. ACME’s roster includes Timo Andres, piano; Hideaki Aomori, clarinet; Emily Brausa, cello; Caleb Burhans, violin/viola; Peter Dugan, piano; Isabel Hagen, viola; Alicia Lee, clarinet; Laura Lutzke, violin; Caitlin Lynch, viola; Grey Mcmurray, guitar; Andrew Rehrig, flute; Yuki Numata Resnick, violin; Ben Russell, violin; Caroline Shaw, violin; Chihiro Shibayama, percussion; Alex Shiozaki, violin; Nadia Sirota, viola; Brian Snow, cello; Mary Jo Stilp, violin; and Chris Thompson, percussion. ACME’s many previous collaborators have included The Richard Alston Dance Company, Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance, Gibney Dance, Satellite Ballet, actress Barbara Sukowa, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, Grizzly Bear, Low, Matmos, Micachu & The Shapes, Jeff Mangum, A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Roomful of Teeth, Lionheart, and Theo Bleckmann. Since its first New York concert season in 2004, the ensemble has performed works by John Adams, John Luther Adams, Louis Andriessen, Gavin Bryars, Caleb Burhans, John Cage, Elliott Carter, George Crumb, Jacob Druckman, Jefferson Friedman, Philip Glass, Charles Ives, Donald Martino, Olivier Messiaen, Nico Muhly, Michael Nyman, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski, Joseph Byrd, Mick Barr, Arnold Schoenberg, Caroline Shaw, William Brittelle, Hauschka, Craig Wedren, Ingram Marshall, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Max Richter, Timo Andres, Lisa Bielawa, and Dustin O'Halloran, Toru Takemitsu, Kevin Volans, Charles Wuorinen, Iannis Xenakis, Phil Kline, Chen Yi, and more. photo: Alison Noah

Skylark Vocal Ensemble

The Skylark Vocal Ensemble is a chamber choir of professional soloists and music educators from across the United States. Formed in 2011 under the direction of Matthew Guard, Skylark has been described as "a gem... soloists who come together to create a dynamic and inspiring whole". Skylark performs innovative programs that communicate truths about the human condition. 

Skylark's mission is threefold: 

• Be a unifying and enriching force by delighting audiences with profound a cappella choral music performed at the highest level. 

• Provide a forum for world-class musicians to practice their art in an ensemble setting. 

• Ensure the future of choral music in society through educational outreach, offering free admission to students and teachers of music, supporting the work of charities that further music education, and inspiring the next generation of professional choral artists."

Stewart Goodyear

Proclaimed “a phenomenon” by the Los Angeles Times and “one of the best pianists of his generation” by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Stewart Goodyear is an accomplished young pianist as a concerto soloist, chamber musician, recitalist and composer. Mr. Goodyear has performed with major orchestras of the world, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Bournemouth Symphony, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, MDR Symphony Orchestra (Leipzig), Montreal Symphony, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and NHK Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Goodyear began his training at The Royal Conservatory in Toronto, received his bachelor’s degree from Curtis Institute of Music, and completed his master’s at The Juilliard School. Known as an improviser and composer, he has been commissioned by orchestras and chamber music organizations, and performs his own solo works. This year, Mr. Goodyear premiered his suite for piano and orchestra, “Callaloo”, with Kristjan Jarvi and MDR Symphony Orchestra in Leipzig, and in July of this year, the Clarosa Quartet will premiere his Piano Quartet commissioned by the Kingston Chamber Music Festival. Mr. Goodyear performed all 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas in one day at Koerner Hall, McCarter Theatre, the Mondavi Center, and the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas.

Mr. Goodyear’s discography includes Beethoven’s Complete Piano Sonatas (which received a Juno nomination for Best Classical Solo Recording in 2014) and Diabelli Variations for the Marquis Classics label, Tchaikovsky First Piano 

Concerto and Grieg’s Piano Concerto, and Rachmaninov’s Piano Concertos No. 2 and 3, both recorded with the Czech National Symphony under Stanislav Bogunia and Hans Matthias Forster respectively, and released to critical acclaim on the Steinway and Sons label. His Rachmaninov recording received a Juno nomination for Best Classical Album for Soloist and Large Ensemble Accompaniment. Also for Steinway and Sons is Mr. Goodyear’s recording of his own transcription of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker (Complete Ballet)”, which was released October 2015 and was chosen by the New York Times as one of the best classical music recordings of 2015.

photo: from booklet 'For Glenn Gould'

 

Ronn McFarlane

GRAMMY-nominated lutenist, Ronn McFarlane strives to bring the lute - the most popular instrument of the Renaissance - into today’s musical mainstream and make it accessible to a wider audience. Since taking up the lute in 1978, Ronn has made his mark in music as the founder of Ayreheart, a new ensemble brought together to perform Ronn's new music.  Ayreheart's debut album is also available on NativeDSD Music. 

He is also a founding member of the Baltimore Consort, touring 49 of the 50 United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Netherlands, Germany and Austria, and as a guest artist with Apollo’s Fire, The Bach Sinfonia, The Catacoustic Consort, The Folger Consort, Houston Grand Opera, The Oregon Symphony, The Portland Baroque Orchestra, and The Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra.

Born in West Virginia, Ronn spent his early years in Maryland. At thirteen, upon hearing “Wipeout” by the Surfaris, he fell wildly in love with music and taught himself to play on a "cranky sixteen-dollar steel-string guitar.” Ronn kept at it, playing blues and rock music on the electric guitar while studying classical guitar.

He graduated with honors from Shenandoah Conservatory and continued guitar studies at Peabody Conservatory before turning his full attention and energy to the lute in 1978. The next year, Mr. McFarlane began to perform solo recitals on the lute and became a member of the Baltimore Consort. Since then, he has toured throughout the United States, Canada and Europe with the Baltimore Consort and as a soloist.

McFarlane was a faculty member of the Peabody Conservatory from 1984 to 1995, teaching lute and lute-related subjects. In 1996, Mr. McFarlane was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Music from Shenandoah Conservatory for his achievements in bringing the lute and its music to the world. He has over 35 recordings on the Dorian/Sono Luminus label, including solo albums, lute duets, flute & lute duets, lute songs, the complete lute music of Vivaldi, a collection of Elizabethan lute music and poetry and recordings with the Baltimore Consort. 

Ronn has composed new music for the lute, building on the tradition of the lutenist/composers of past centuries. His original compositions are the focus of his solo album, Indigo Road, which received a GRAMMY Award Nomination for Best Classical Crossover Album in 2009. 

photo: from cover 'The Celtic Flute'

Bruce Levingston

Bruce Levingston is a concert pianist and one of the country’s leading figures in contemporary classical music. He is known for his “extraordinary gifts as a colorist and a performer who can hold attention rapt with the softest playing” (MusicWeb International). Many of the world’s most important composers have written works for him, and his Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center world premiere performances have won notable critical acclaim. The New York Times has praised his “mastery of color and nuance" and called him one of “today’s most adventurous musicians”. The New Yorker has called him “a force for new music” and “a poetic pianist with a gift for inventive — and glamorous — programming.” Levingston has appeared in concerts and music festivals throughout the world. His performances have been broadcast internationally on radio, internet and television. Noted for his creative programming, he has worked with some of the most gifted artists of our time, including painter Chuck Close, composer Philip Glass, authors George Plimpton and Michael Cunningham, actor Ethan Hawke, dancers Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo, Colin and Eric Jacobsen and the Brooklyn Rider, and choreographers Jorma Elo, Russell Maliphant and Alexei Ratmansky. Levingston is the founder and artistic director of the music foundation, Premiere Commission, Inc., which has commissioned and premiered over 50 new works. Levingston has collaborated with numerous prominent cultural institutions on programs related to art and music including Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of Art; Alliance Française/French Institute; The Aspen Institute and Aspen Music Festival; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. In 2015, Levingston’s new biography about the painter Marie Hull, Bright Fields: The Mastery of Marie Hull, was published on the 125th Anniversary of the famed Mississippi artist’s birth. Levingston also curated two major exhibitions of Hull’s work at the Mississippi Museum of Art and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans in conjunction with the publication of the book. Long interested in human rights and education, Levingston gave a special premiere performance for the opening of Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and collaborated on the commission and world premiere of the oratorio, Repast, which was based on the life of the civil rights figure Booker Wright. Levingston regularly performs and conducts master classes in public schools to promote the arts and bring live music to young audiences. He was awarded the Mississippi Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. Levingston is the Chancellor’s Honors College Artist in Residence and Holder of the L. G. Fant Chair at the University of Mississippi. He resides in Oxford, MS and New York City.

photo: from booklet Glass - Dreaming Awake

Ensemble Galilei

Founded in 1990, Ensemble Galilei is an ensemble of players from both classical and Celtic backgrounds, playing Irish and Scottish airs and dance tunes, early and medieval music, and original compositions. The Ensemble takes their name and inspiration from the life of composer Vincenzo Galilei, whose influence, some four hundred years ago, helped restore a vital element of passion to the music of the day.

To achieve their unique Celtic sound, Ensemble Galilei has melded the elegance of chamber music with the energy and excitement of traditional music. An intricate blend of instruments grants listeners passage to another world, evoking musical images of the ancient Celts and bringing these images to life for today’s audiences. They have performed and toured globally for almost twenty-five years, and have been featured on multiple recordings and radio performances. They have notably collaborated with National Geographic to create First Person: Stories from the Edge of the World and collaborated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art for First Person: Seeing America.

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Imagine Christmas (2017)

Gruber, Martin, Traditional, Guaraldi, Gillespie, Hills, Blake, MARKS, Berlin, Tchaikovsky, Nelson

Various Artists

Digital Converters: Horus, Hapi
Editing Software: Pyramix
Mastering Room: Legacy Audio
Producer: Dan Merceruio
Recording Engineer: Daniel Shores
Recording location: Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia
Recording Software: Merging
Recording Type & Bit Rate: DXD

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DSL92216: Imagine Christmas
00:38:24   Select quality & channels above
Tracks.
1.
Frosty the Snowman
Nelson
00:02:36   Select quality & channels above
2.
"The Seasons, Op. 37a, TH 135: XII. December ""Christmas"""
Tchaikovsky
00:04:08   Select quality & channels above
3.
White Christmas
Berlin
00:03:41   Select quality & channels above
4.
Holly Jolly Christmas
MARKS
00:02:15   Select quality & channels above
5.
"Walking in the Air (From ""The Snowman"")"
Blake
00:02:54   Select quality & channels above
6.
'Twas the Night Before Christmas
Hills
00:03:56   Select quality & channels above
7.
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
Gillespie
00:02:32   Select quality & channels above
8.
"Christmas Time Is Here (From ""A Charlie Brown Christmas"") "
Guaraldi
00:03:06   Select quality & channels above
9.
Joy to the World
Traditional
00:01:45   Select quality & channels above
10.
Good King Wenceslas
Traditional
00:02:55   Select quality & channels above
11.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Martin
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12.
Silent Night, H. 145
Gruber
00:05:54   Select quality & channels above

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