Silver, Wood & Ivory,
Christmas with Silver, Wood & Ivory
(Wittenberg, 2001)

Pianist Cindy Keller Wittenberg and flutist Tracy Dietrich bill themselves as Silver, Wood & Ivory. Based in southeastern Pennsylvania, these individually accomplished musicians happen to perform quite admirably as a duo.

This CD features carols and interwoven medleys that don't often appear on typical holiday albums. Wittenberg's piano is most often featured in the foreground, with Dietrich's ethereal woodwinds either echoing in the distance or hovering just above, as if in a cloud. Dietrich proves her talent at variety of instruments throughout the course of the album: flute, alto flute, bass flute, soprano recorder, alto recorder, pan flute, pennywhistle and piccolo. She and Wittenberg often alternate melody lines. And the keyboard arpeggios bring to mind images of the falling snowflakes that do occasionally land in the women's backyards in winter in their native Lancaster County.

Given the choice of selections, this music could easily be considered "seasonal," rather than just designed for easy listening in December. Instrumentation is light enough to provide background for get-togethers and gatherings but intricate enough to keep music aficionados entertained.

Many of the pieces are slow and thoughtful -- but are far from plodding. These include "Gesu Bambino," "The Friendly Beasts," "In the Bleak Mid-Winter/Still, Still, Still," "Of the Father's Love Begotten/Jesus, Jesus Rest Your Head," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Walking in the Air," "I Wonder as I Wander," "Mary, Did You Know?" and "Silent Night/O Sanctissimus." On the slightly merrier side is "Now is Born," which has a Peter Kater (new age pianist) sound to it. The combination of "Pachelbel Christmas/Angels We Have Heard on High/The First Noel" is performed at a deliberate pace. The woodwinds make the two carols more playful while the basic chord progression follows the familiar "Canon in D." The introduction of the pennywhistle and pan flute for "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/Sing We Now of Christmas" creates a medieval rhythm. It brings to mind a graystone castle scene, where an opulent feast is piled onto a Hassenpfeffer table at which a corpulent wide-mouthed king, perched on a pillowed throne, is barking out orders to an overworked but far from subservient servant. (Sorry, post-Boomers, you'll have to rent a Bugs Bunny compilation to understand this reference.) "Irish Christmas: People Look East/Sussex Carol/Ding Dong Merrily on High" evokes a picture too: one that's a tad fuzzy, except for the fact that it's quite green.

Only one medley boldly reminds us that this is indeed a Christmas CD. Soprano Chris Ressler lends a third voice to the track for "The Christmas Song/White Christmas." Her light vocal matches the airy atmosphere firmly established by Wittenberg and Dietrich. It's not Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, but it works.

Overall, Christmas with Silver, Wood & Ivory should be a welcome addition to any holiday/seasonal CD collection. Running more than an hour in length, it's something you can listen to in a nonstop loop without noticing any repetition and without thinking, "Oh, it's starting over again." It will calm you down after a hectic week of entertaining family members or friends, or after a stressful day in the boardroom. It provides a soothing accompaniment as snowflakes whip into your windshield at warp speed, as you grip the steering wheel and align your tires to land into the parallel lines stretching ahead of you. It offers a relaxing soundtrack as you lounge around the living room dressed in flannel, gazing outside at a white-gray landscape, watching the squirrels bounding through a nearby wood in late winter, early spring, when everybody goes to Mexico.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Corinne H. Smith

29 November 2008

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