CD: Carols of Christmas
Artist: David Hicken

Carols of ChristmasAs a prolific composer and recording artist, David Hicken has released a number of diverse albums over the years. The latest is a collection of his solo piano versions of Christmas classics that in addition to emanating holiday cheer, serves as a showcase for David’s formidable musical talent. His impressive abilities have been developed over a lifetime and include many distinguished achievements. Although David now lives in Hawaii, he was born and raised in England and grew up in a musical family where his formal training began at an early age. He gave his first solo performance as an organist when he was just 12 years old. Musical scholarships to prestigious educational institutions followed, and at the age of 18 David had the great honor of playing for the Queen of England. He began releasing albums of new age instrumental music a year later, and went on to record two albums of classical organ. After working, composing and performing with keyboardist Patrick Moraz of the Moody Blues and Yes, David received an ultimate compliment from Moraz, who referred to him as “one of the finest musicians he had ever heard.” Similar praise was given by major Hollywood producer David Foster whose daughter was a piano student of David Hicken. He also taught the son of movie composer James Horner (Titanic and Avatar). David’s own compositions have been performed at Carnegie Hall, Canterbury Cathedral, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. While these accolades barely scratch the surface of David’s distinguished career, I’ll refer those who may be interested in reading more to David’s website, and will continue here with a look at his latest release, Carols of Christmas.


David HickenIt’s hard not to be awed by the opening track on the album, “The Bell Carol,” which is David’s up-tempo version of the classic “Carol of the Bells.” His technique is absolutely stunning and the arrangement is certainly unique. I’ve always loved when a musician drops in a musical quote or phrases from another song. And in this piece, David briefly transits into passages from “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” before seamlessly segueing back into the main theme without missing a beat. This piece makes an ultimate “first impression” and piques our interest for what is to follow. The listener has an opportunity to catch their breath on track 2, “In The Bleak Midwinter,” which provides a yin and yang comparison to the first song. Its wistful refrain and measured cadence reveal an entirely different facet of David’s musical spectrum. While the first piece dazzles with its virtuosity, this one has more of an emotional resonance.


The next track is a medley that begins with “What Child Is This.” Although it is presented here instrumentally, the lyrics of this carol were first published in 1867, but the music is actually based on the well-known folk tune “Greensleeves,” which dates back to the fourteenth century. While the Greensleeves melody is often performed with a lilting melancholy air, David’s version is dynamic and bold – a style that also encompasses the other part of the medley, “ We Three Kings.” Another popular carol David offers his elegant rendition of is “Adeste Fideles,” which is also known as “O Come All Ye Faithful.” As mentioned, some of the tracks on the album offer a contrast in style and tempo from one song to the next, yet in this one, that contrast is evident within the piece as it Christmas in Tettenhallevolves. All of the tracks on this release are traditional Christmas carols, with the exception of David’s original composition, “Christmas In Tettenhall,” a reference to the charming English village known for its spectacular holiday lighting. The song features a lovely heartfelt melody with a twinkling quality like the lights of Christmas themselves. That feeling extends into David’s version of “Silent Night,” on which he took some interesting creative license on the chord progression and arrangement. I especially enjoyed hearing a well-known song like this given a personal touch.


At first I wondered if there was a misspelling in the title, but after a bit of research I found that “The First Nowell,” as it appears on the album, dates back to the mid 1500’s and is actually the original name of the carol more commonly known as “The First Noel.” While on the surface, David’s rendition of it may seem understated compared to some of his more ornate playing, closer listening reveals intriguing twists, reminiscent of his creativity on “Silent Night.” One of my favorite pieces on the album was “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” The reason for that is not anything I can put in analytical terms, but is purely in the emotional response it evoked in me. I found David’s version of this beautiful classic to be quite moving and uplifting. Although it is performed on solo piano, I could almost hear choirs of angels singing as the song built to a climax.


David Hicken studioWhile the album features traditional carols David grew up with and carry their share of nostalgia, his interpretation of them is innovative and illuminated by the light of his own unique musical persona. The word “virtuoso” is sometimes used a bit too liberally, but in the case of David Hicken it is well deserved. The combination of stellar technique, passionate performance, and creative vision that David brings to this album make Carols of Christmas one of the most impressive holiday releases I’ve heard this season.







An inspiring music video from a previous release by David Hicken: