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Joyful Noel
Rebecca Kragnes
2001

Reviewed by
Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

Rebecca Kragnes’ second release, "Joyful Noel", is easily one of the best Christmas albums I’ve ever heard. Part of the genius of this recording is Kragnes’ grouping of Christmas carols and songs into thematic medleys: travel, angels, night, and joy. All of the arrangements are solo piano, and David Lanz is executive producer, assuring a very high level of quality.

In keeping with the title, most of the songs are played in a joyous but elegant style, and all are of a spiritual nature (no Santa songs or "Jingle Bells"). "Carol of the Bells" stands alone as a singular piece (as opposed to a medley), and is exceptional. As a piano teacher who tends to dread the onslaught of holiday music, I especially appreciate approaches to traditional music that are different. While this album meets that "need" for me, the arrangements are still traditional enough to not put off those who are looking for an accessible, easy-to-digest collection.

Another wise move on Kragnes’ part when compiling the medleys was the inclusion of some not-so-familiar songs mixed in with the standards, helping to keep the music sounding new and fresh. For example, the "Night" medley contains, Kragnes’ own "On a Holy Night" (the only original piece in the collection, and it is gorgeous!), "O Little Town of Bethlehem", "Still, Still, Still", "Coventry Carol", "Silent Night", and "O Holy Night" all woven together seamlessly. Medleys are not a new approach, but this one is especially well-done. Brava, Rebecca Kragnes! You’ve created a Christmas joy!


Joyful Noel
Rebecca Kragnes
2001

Reviewed by
John Iverson,
Shades of Classics
Campus/Community Radio CKUW 95.9 FM
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

A superb new Christmas album from Minneapolis pianist Rebecca Kragnes has just been released. This follow-up to her debut recording Golden is titled JOYFUL NOEL, and it is a carefully selected compilation of piano solo adaptations of many of your favourite seasonal carols and hymns. David Lanz, who provided Rebecca with "his ever valuable advice", once again was the Executive Producer, and along with his brother Gary did the post-production work on the album.

Journey with Rebecca as this gifted musician gives these timeless classics a fresh new look. Her playing ranges from soft and delicate to strong and powerful, as she displays a wide variety of colours, timbres, and emotions throughout the entire set. These arrangements are her very own, and they are nothing short of exquisite. And the transitions between the selections within each themed medley are seamless, as she has so carefully and thoughtfully intertwined the selected tracks together. Rebecca's playing is again impeccable, and the power and intensity she emotes playing these tunes is incredible. It is obvious from the outset that she feels a special joy in performing this material.

The album opens with a medley of tunes related to an imaginary journey, and the anticipation of what may lie in store at the conclusion of the journey. This set includes one of my personal favourites, the mystical "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel", as well as an extremely powerful rendition of "O Come All Ye Faithful". She follows that medley up with another, this time on the theme of angels, a topic that seems to become more prominent during the Christmas season. This medley includes a beautiful and provocative version of "What Child Is This". Rebecca then shows us three different arrangements of the tender carol "Away in a Manger".

We journey onward now to the Night Medley, which for me is the high point of the album. This medley includes three of my all-time seasonal favourites, "Still, Still, Still", "Silent Night", and "O Holy Night". It also features one of Rebecca's own original compositions, the beautiful "On a Holy Night". She then concludes the album with "Carol of the Bells", which is quite full of the energy she strived to achieve while playing it, and the intertwined carols "The First Noel" and "Joy to the World", titled Joyful Noel. She states that by weaving these melodies together she hopes to "bring a special joy to your Christmas".

What is certain is that this album WILL bring a special joy to your Christmas. And that is because this outstanding musician plays so passionately and so warmly, straight from her heart. This is a solid performance, and I would say ranks among the best instrumental Christmas albums available. Listening to these selections for me definitely re-kindled some of the Christmas spirit that I experienced as a child. It will for you too. If you only buy one Christmas album this year, make it this one. Enjoy your Christmas melodies in a fresh new way, personally gift wrapped by Rebecca just for you.

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