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Handbell Ensemble Media Review

A Very Classical Christmas: Excerpts from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, Handel's Messiah, and music by Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart

December 20, 2001 - Raleigh, NC:

A Very Classical Christmas: Excerpts from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, Handel's Messiah, and music by Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart. Timothy Day, flute, and the Sonos Handbell Ensemble, James Meredith, director. Well-Tempered Productions CD WTP 5191 (55:13), available online from http://www.sonos.org/

On the heels of the Raleigh Ringers' concert performances of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, it was a delight to have this outstanding Sonos CD float to the top of the "to-do" pile. The recording begins with the Sugarplum Fairy's Dance and includes the March and four characteristic dances but omits the Overture Miniature. The arrangements of three numbers are by the same people whose versions the Ringers played here, and two of them feature solo flute - played by Timothy Day, of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He's heard to great advantage in eight other works, too - three of the six excerpts from Messiah and some marvelous adaptations of familiar works by Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart. Sonos' chief arrangers are Kathy Geisler, who is this CD's producer, and James Meredith, the ensemble's director, who grew up and was educated in North Carolina.

Sonos is widely considered to be America's other leading handbell choir, and Meredith explained during a recent visit here (the group performed in Duke Chapel on October 21) that he aims to have it be the first fully-professional such ensemble in the country. It's a bit smaller than the Ringers; thirteen players perform on this recording, using four and a half octaves of Malmark bells, a bottom octave of Schulmerich bells, and four octaves of Malmark chimes. The results are quite amazing - in the Handel selections, the bells sustain low tones so well, and so resonantly, that one might think there's an organ involved, but Meredith advises that the ensemble is limited to bells alone (plus Day's flute in "Rejoice greatly," "He shall feed His flock" and "I know that my Redeemer liveth."

The 24-bit high-definition compatible CD offers spectacular sound, and readers who want to try it before they buy it may sample it (and other Sonos CDs) via audio files posted at the ensemble's website (provided in the headnote). The fact that this release includes not one but two substantial "suites" earns Meredith and Sonos an A+ recommendation.