Top positive review
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4.5 stars - relaxing playlist of foreground or background music
on December 13, 2011
The 99 tracks in this set are compiled from the following albums also listed on Amazon:
1-12 - "The Nutcracker Piano - Waltz Of The Snowflakes" by Zsuzsa Bálint
13-26 - the full album "Christmas Piano Dreams" by Mediative (sic) Holiday Classics
27-35 - "Gregorian Chants - Advent & Christmas" by Capella Gregoriana
36-47 - "The Christmas Harp" by Various Artists
48-61 - "Christmas Meditation - Vol. 1" by Various Artists
62-66 - "Christmas Meditation - Vol. 2" by Various Artists
67-78 - "Christmas Meditation - Vol. 3" by Various Artists
79-90 - "Christmas Meditation - Vol. 4" by Various Artists
91-99 - "Christmas Meditation - Vol. 5" by Various Artists
I haven't done any serious comparison but 14 or 15 of the tracks here are duplicated on "99 Must-Have Thanksgiving Classics".
The first dozen tracks provide a fresh presentation of the overplayed Nutcracker pieces. Typically we hear them performed by a symphony, and for me that means an instant "skip to the next track" or change of radio station. But this solo piano is a refreshing change that allows the listener to hear the pieces anew. This I can listen to, and enjoy. One small provision, a couple of the tracks get a little busy or enthusiastic in their delivery, countering the effect intended by a "Christmas Meditation" collection. Two thirds of the original album is included in this set.
The full album "Christmas Piano Dreams" follows. Again, it takes songs that you've heard too many times, things you'd never want to hear again unless they're being sung by dogs, like "Jingle Bells" - and the simple piano performance is surprisingly refreshing. So often musicians are preoccupied with trying to impress the listener with personal artistry or wizard-like reinterpretations, but not here. The performance is simple without being minimalist. You'd almost think that someone had gotten old Mrs. Beverly to take a break from teaching Sunday School and sit down at the standup piano in the social hall to run through a list of holiday standards. This being someone who plays the songs as written on the sheet music without any jazz flourishes or "I'm auditioning for a better job" approaches. It's enjoyable enough that the other instruments that sometimes check in as accompaniment just seem unnecessary. I especially appreciate that it doesn't lean on the now-cliche crystalline bell-like piano tone that has become so predictable in jazz and classical recordings. This is probably my favorite section of this set.
Next up is Capella Gregoriana, one of those chanting monks deals. They've got a number of albums here on Amazon including Lost In Meditation - Meditative Gregorian Chants which Amazon currently has priced at less than the cost of a hot dog from the gas station if you opt for the mp3 download. I must admit that I'm a little spoiled after listening to Russian Monks' Chant but this is still a placid-inducing experience.
As you get into the harp section you start encountering duplicates from the Thanksgiving set. This might be a good section to put on as you're ready to drift off to sleep. If you've had a hectic day of Christmas shopping or dealing with houseguests, it'll take the jangle out of you without feeling like you've violated yourself by listening to Kenny G.
The back half of the collection comprises about two thirds of the five "Christmas Meditation" albums. I found the most enjoyable moments to be the classical guitar performances by Monika Rost and/or Jürgen Rost (tracks 85 and 98) though the entire playlist was enjoyable and suited to the intent of the album. A lot in this section by the Budapest Strings. Although I'm not a big fan of string sections, they do a good job of avoiding the usual pitfalls of being shrill, strident, fluffy or lush.
The primary difference between this collection and the similarly-themed 99 Must-Have Thanksgiving Classics is that these tracks are better suited to being foreground music if you so choose, though they're also excellent wallpaper ambience. It's enjoyable programming and a bargain, the perfect playlist to put on as you drift off to sleep.