One of the Best!
Michele McLaughlin’s “Christmas - Plain & Simple” is one of the best solo piano Christmas albums I’ve heard. Consisting of ten traditional carols and five original pieces, this CD is a perfect blending of old and new music, played with spirit but without a lot of “look at me!” flash. McLaughlin’s touch is strong and confident, yet full of grace and expression. Her arrangements of the traditional pieces are true to the originals but freshened up and contemporary. The five new pieces fit right in with the older songs and add a very personal message. (They also make me want to hear more of McLaughlin’s own music, so be watching for more of my reviews of her work!)
The CD begins with “Winter Solstice,” one of McLaughlin’s own pieces. Spirited, with an infectious energy, and bouncing with joy to spare, this is a great start! This is one of those pieces that make my fingers itch because they sound like such fun to play. “Away in a Manger” is a gentle and tender lullaby, alternating between the original German melody and the “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton” alternative. “Still, Still, Still” begins in the upper registers of the piano, suggesting sparkling snow in the stillness of night - a lovely arrangement. “The Toymaker” is another original. Playful and innocent, it also has an irresistible energy. “Holiday Gathering” effectively conveys excitement and joy with a hint of poignance. The simple, straightforward treatment of “Silent Night” describes perfect peace. “Greensleeves” is gorgeous. It’s interesting how McLaughlin has taken these well-worn pieces and made them sound new and exciting even though she really hasn’t changed them much. She’s added passages to many of them, but, for the most part, sticks with the melodies, adding interesting accompaniments and relying on her heartfelt and expressive touch to make them her own. “By The Fire” is the fourth of McLaughlin’s pieces, a lovely, graceful bit of musical comfort. Warm, relaxed, and inviting, it’s a beauty. I absolutely love the minor-key mystery of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” and this arrangement is one of my favorites. The original passage in the middle of the piece is a great segue that comes back to the melody. My favorite track is McLaughlin’s “Celtic Christmas.” This piece is such an expression of joy and energy that it makes my heart sing and my feet want to dance. (My fingers are itching again, too!) The other traditional pieces are “We Three Kings,” “Angels We Have Heard On High,” “O Holy Night,” “The First Noel,” and “Joy to the World,” and all are excellent.
I’m usually getting pretty burned out on Christmas CDs by this time in December, but I have thoroughly enjoyed “Christmas - Plain & Simple.” Highly recommended!