Hammered Dulcimer Christmas, Vol. II features full acoustic arrangements of 14 season musical essentials. The sound of the hammered dulcimer blends flawlessly with Celtic harp, strings, flute, and percussion to capture every dimension of the holiday spirit.
What an enjoyable listening experience! It has just the right amount of everything. It is stunning! It causes the listener to feel the sensational joy of the Christmas season, while appreciating the interaction of the instruments as they exchange the melodies, countermelodies and harmonies from one to the other. The arrangements are inventive and sensitive and the over all sound is balanced and well blended, and one will have a heightened awareness of the technical precision with which the musicians are playing and will be amazed by what a good mix it is… no instrument dominates, but each one shines at the right time, then fades into the background to support the ensemble
The hammered dulcimer, as usual with Joshua, is impeccable…stylistically pushing the boundaries of the capabilities of this instrument. And what an unexpected pleasure it is to hear his wife, Stephanie, on Celtic harp, particularly on “I Wonder as I Wander.”
“Ding Dong Merrily/Good King Wenceslas” as a dulcimer solo was perfect for the opener with its mixed rhythms and very effective contrasts between sustain and the damper pedal. “White Christmas” had no help from any other instruments as the dulcimer was strong enough alone, using rich, extraordinary arpeggios and melodic breaks with unexpected chromatic touches. The dulcimer solos are interspersed between the rich layers of great ensemble work, but “The First Noel” stands above the others as the virtual climax of the solo listening experience. The dynamic range is unsurpassed as is the effective use of every octave of the melodic range of the instrument.
The arrangements are all fresh and inventive and exceptionally compelling. Throughout the entire listening experience the flute is played so sweetly and sensitively, displaying much feeling! Amy’s playing is smooth, warm and controlled. The interplay between the flute and the rest of the ensemble was especially captivating in “Coventry Carol”… the flute doesn’t dominate the performance but she doesn’t hesitate to step up with skill and style. Her style and sound pair well with hammered dulcimer. The strings do their part to be the glue that holds the arrangements together and the bells and percussion were stimulating…especially on “Patapan.” The interplay between the instruments on “Sugar Plum Fairy” is unusually fascinating and stimulating.
While every piece increases the joyous sensations that erupt, some might say “God Rest Ye Merry/Sing We Now” is the climactic point. It is very well orchestrated with driving rhythms and background chords that will leave you breathless. “It Came Upon A Midnight, Clear” was unconventional in its harmonies, but what a pleasant break from the expected!
But, just between you and me…I won’t need to listen to any other Christmas music this year. To put it another way, this Christmas album is at the top of my list. I’m going to encourage all of my students to get it! Thanks for sharing your beautiful music.
— Peggy Carter