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One Winter Evening at Meymandi: 2001 Christmas Concert. Including music by Bach, William A. Payn, Mozart, Leroy Anderson, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Sousa, and more, including several rock songs, adapted for performance by handbells. The Raleigh Ringers, David M. Harris, director. DVD RR-10049, c.2 hours (including 85 minutes taped during performances of December 15-16, 2001, plus supplemental material and bonus tracks). $25 + $2 shipping, available from http://www.rr.org/ or 919/847-7574. (Also available on VHS.)
Ok, it's confession time. A decade or so ago, when I first heard about a then-new professional handbell ensemble, based in the Triangle, I was skeptical. After all, everyone has played 'em, but few people have done so with anything like professional skill. Why, even Metro Magazine publisher Bernie Reeves, a classmate, back in the Dark Ages, at Ravenscroft (which used to be a little Episcopal school on Tucker Street), played a middle-C handbell in the R'croft Ringers group! Still, the Raleigh Ringers seemed to be doing things the right way. They set themselves up as a non-profit organization, they collected a batch of grants, and they gave concerts as they built up their collection of bells and their repertoire, which soon began to include works specifically written for large handbell ensemble. From the first time I heard them, I have been impressed and, often, amazed, for this is no minor-league outfit, such as we often find in schools or churches. Instead, the Raleigh Ringers have become one of the region's premiere groups, in terms of artistry and technical accomplishment. And this magnificent DVD (also available on VHS, but without all the extra features provided in the digital version) shows them at their very best. The main part of the recording stems from last year's holiday concerts, given in Meymandi Concert Hall; one of these performances was reviewed in CVNC, and that column remains available in our archives, so there's no need to repeat here the full contents of the formal program, aside from noting (again) that the works given include several that were composed for the Raleigh Ringers (and that have been published by the Ringers, for the benefit of other large ensembles), along with numerous arrangements of seasonal and non-seasonal fare. The centerpiece is a wonderful performance of a remarkable version of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, formed from portions arranged by five different composers; the Ringers' rendition makes it seem all of a piece, and the results provide a whole new picture of the holiday classic.
The Ringers get publicity for their holiday concerts from some atypical sources, including a local radio station, for which the group presents each year a new arrangement of a classic rock tune; several of these (including "Pinball Wizard" and "Hotel California") are included in this video.
The concert is presented complete, as given during last year's holiday performances, and two of the three encores offered on December 16, 2001, are included, too. These rock encores must be seen (and heard, too, of course) to be believed.
A full list of the DVD's contents is provided at the Ringer's website (https://store.bpstudios.com/RaleighRingers/dvds/dvd-001.aspx [inactive 10/09]); the group has maximized the benefits of the still-relatively-new format, and the overall results will surely prove revelatory, even for long-time Ringers fans, thanks to the backstage glimpses provided. It is also particularly helpful to have illustrations and examples of the sounds of the various bells that make up the Ringers' equipment inventory, which is, in a word, extensive.
Take it from someone who was there, at one of the performances filmed for this video: the sound is in some respects superior to what was heard in the hall (particularly from the largest bells, which tend not to project very well). You can certainly see the performers better than is possible from the middle or back of the hall, and many of the close-ups are fascinating. And because this is a concert video, prepared for at-home viewing, each number is titled on the screen, there's no intermission, and the director's comments, which at live performances cover the time required for changing equipment and give the players brief rests, have been omitted. Thus the substantial program has here been reduced to its musical essence. See it, and you will in all likelihood become a regular patron of the Ringers' concerts!
From a technical standpoint, it is hard to imagine a better video of any handbell ensemble, for this is a class act from start to finish, featuring outstanding camera work, high-quality resolution, and Dolby digital sound. There's absolutely no comparison between this professional-grade video and some of the tapes that have aired in previous years on Raleigh's community television channel. An hour's worth of excerpts from the video has been shown on WUNC-TV during the current holiday season; the last of these telecasts is December 22, at 6:00 p.m., coming right on the heels of the Ringers' final holiday concert of the current season. Those who have seen the telecasts or attended the concerts will surely want a copy of the new video. Those who have yet to discover the Ringers are also urged to explore their art, and there is probably no easier, softer way to do so than by getting a copy of the new DVD as a stocking stuffer. Happy holidays!