"Simple Gifts" is Janice Faber’s second collection of solo piano Christmas carols, following her 2012 release, "Peace, Joy, Noel." The ten tracks include traditional as well as contemporary Christmas songs plus two originals, but all are of a spiritual nature - no Santa or Rudolph. Faber has been an active pianist since the age of ten, so I’m sure that a lot of this music is second nature to her, but she imbues all of the songs with a freshness and grace that make them new and very special. Her playing and arranging style is flowing and not overly-embellished. Faber brings out the beauty of the melodies by keeping them fairly simple, direct, and by playing them with heartfelt emotion and expression. This is music for the quieter, more peaceful times of the Christmas season - or an antidote to the hectic pace of the holidays and a reminder of what it is that we’re supposed to be celebrating.
"Simple Gifts" begins with a medley of “O Christmas Tree” and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Peaceful and serene, it’s a lovely way to start! “The Little Drummer Boy” is one of the newer carols and expresses the innocence and love of the child who who wanted to play his best for the baby Jesus. “Christmas Stars” is the first of the original pieces, and what a gorgeous piece it is! Slow, somewhat bittersweet, and full of longing, it’s my favorite piece on the album. I also really like the medley of “Good King Wenceslas” and “Simple Gifts,” a combination that I would not have thought of, but that works beautifully. Both songs are given a light, spirited treatment, expressing joy and anticipation. “O Come All Faithful” also has a light touch, but it’s the interlude in the middle that makes this arrangement so beautiful and compelling. I often think of this carol as being kind of a command to come and worship, but Faber’s arrangement is much more of a warm and friendly invitation. “Christmas Joy” is the second original carol. Bright and joyful, it sounds like the ringing of church bells in celebration of the good news of Christmas. The medley of “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “Still, Still, Still” is SO peaceful and makes me think of the quiet wonder of falling snow. Bleak? Not even a little bit! I love this arrangement! The album closes with an equally peaceful “O Holy Night.” I think there are some keyboard washes in the background that add some atmospheric effects - they are very subtle, but really nice.
The warmth and grace of Janice Faber’s piano touch will make "Simple Gifts" a wonderful addition to your collection of Christmas music! Very highly recommended!