(16 March 2009) Sarah Brightman's A Winter Symphony (Manhattan Records (USA) 50999 2 3412323, 2008) album was refreshing and new. Sparkly and festive this album is perfect for the holiday season. Being a fan of Sarah Brightman since her Dive album, I've been able to enjoy all the different complex sides that exist in Sarah's incredible vocal range and diverse musical styles. Sarah's Winter Symphony is yet another musical side of Sarah I didn't know existed.
"Arrival" is sweet and full of cheer, it made me want to sit near a roaring fire while sipping hot cocoa and nibbling on a peppermint candy cane. It really held the Christmas spirit with uplifting vocals, a swelling symphony, and beautiful harmonies. "Colder Than Winter" slows you down a bit with a reflective frosty sadness about closing the door on love, but as the song deepens her voice elevates you to a sweeter place filled with hope. Sarah's version of "Ave Maria" is simply sublime. A duet with Fernando Lima--a perfect coupling of two amazing voices--creates a fantastic version I've never heard before.
On "Silent Night", Sarah's voice is so incredibly tender and delicate it brings tears to your eyes. She strikes emotions and weightlessness with her caressing voice. This was my favorite song from the album. I'm so use to hearing "In The Bleak Midwinter" with a Celtic flair that I was surprised how beautiful and new it sounded as an orchestral version. The gentle piano keys and Sarah's sultry voice made a perfect ending to this song.
"I've Been This Way Before" has beautiful harp glissandos a slow rock beat and a gorgeous orchestra which sounds like it should be on a movie soundtrack. Sarah's voice has a burning brightness that glides with the music perfectly.
"Jesu Joy Of Man's Desiring" is a beautiful hymn with a baroque waltzing tempo that makes you feel as though you're sitting in a Catholic Church with angels singing in the choir. The harmonies are stunning on this song.
"Child In A Manger" has a soft folk ballad feel to it. Starting out gently like a lullaby it builds with dazzling beauty with every verse. The incredibly high notes she sails upon seem effortless and sound sensational.
"I wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" is a peppy fun filled song with a fast paced drive, lots of brass, a choir with hand claps, and sleigh bells. You could easily hear this song played on the radio or in a mall during the Holiday season. It even has a children's choir at the end. It's not my favorite piece on this recording for it does seem slightly formulated in the realm of Mannheim Steamroller music mixed with Jackson Five's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." So although it wasn't my favorite song choice it certainly will make fans of popular Christmas music happy.
"Amazing Grace" was sung with exquisite gentleness and grace. The background music is soft to allow Sarah's songbird voice to soar to greater and greater heights. Simply radiant. "Ave Maria" is sung with passion and radiance. Completely different than the first run of "Ave Maria" on the album, this one is the more traditional arrangement I'm familiar with and the way Brightman sings the hymn is so dreamy. The incredibly high notes she reaches were marvelous and gave me shivers.
"I Believe In Father Christmas" was splendid and fun with gentle guitar strums, an angelic choir, pretty soft bells, deep drums and soft brass horns that merges into a marching beat that gears into yet another layer of driving rock music that's full of Christmas cheer. This song envelopes the true sense of Christmas and is a perfect farewell ending to this album.
I have listened to A Winter Symphony at least twenty times. If you're a fan of Sarah Brightman's music prepare yourself to be pleasantly surprised. The swelling symphonies, angelic choirs, beautifully unique arrangements
of beloved Christmas songs, and Sarah's brilliantly dazzling voice provide each song with a different sound.--Gabrielle Angelique in Augusta, Georgia