After all of my years of working on Christmas music with my piano students for 2-3 months each year, it takes a very special solo piano Christmas album to get my attention, and Lisa Downing's "Christmas For Two" is just such an album. Downing's impeccable technique and her unique interpretations of these Christmas standards make for a warm, cozy listening experience. There are usually at least a few carols in these Christmas collections that just don't feel right, but this one has no fillers or near-misses - it's excellent from the first note to the last. There are twelve tracks on "Christmas For Two," but almost all of them are medleys, so the actual carol count is closer to twenty-five. How's that for a holiday bargain?
"Christmas For Two" begins with a wonderful medley of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" and "Carol of the Bells" - two of my favorites! I love the dark passion of both of these songs, and Downing gives them a fascinating combination of jazz, classical, and pop treatments that really work. Next up is a gorgeous arrangement of "O Holy Night" paired with "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." Flowing and peaceful yet dramatic in all the right places, this is another beauty. "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and "Do You Hear What I Hear" is an unexpected combination, but it works incredibly well. Downing keeps "Emmanuel" dark and emotional as is the tradition, but it feels like a much more modern song. Conversely, "Do You Hear" is much more somber than you usually hear it, making it sound older and more classical. Amazing! The biggest surprise on the album is the "Canon in D Christmas Medley." Rather that mixing in religious carols, Downing blends in "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas," "Deck the Halls," and "Jingle Bells"! You have to hear this one to believe it! "Angels We Have Heard On High" and "Silent Night" are the only songs that stand alone, and they are both very elegant arrangements. "What Child Is This?" and "We Three Kings" are graceful and delicate, but deeply emotional. The concluding track is "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and "The Holly and the Ivy," another duo I wouldn't have thought to put together, but it works seamlessly. If you only buy one new Christmas album this year, be sure to check this one out! It's my favorite so far this year. Very highly recommended!