PROVO Faithful fans of Jenny Oaks Baker have long awaited a Christmas CD showcasing her mesmerizing violin talents. That day is here.
Performing with the Utah Valley Symphony recently, Baker played nearly every piece from her new CD.
Wrapped like an elegant gift, Baker opened her performance with the title song, "O Holy Night." Having flown in from the East Coast the same day, Baker had just 90 minutes to practice with the symphony, noting it takes several days to rehearse with the national symphony, but the Utah Valley Symphony is so good, one run-through is enough.
Kurt Bestor, whom Baker calls "Mr. Christmas," arranged four of the selections.
"He's done so many Christmas concerts and has so many arrangements," Baker said. "He knows what's good."
Baker said her favorite selection is "I Saw Three Ships" because Bestor did it in a Scottish fiddle style. Some audience members noticed a difference.
"Instead of a melodic 7th, he flats the 7th," said Roger Wilson, a symphony devotee. Doing this to a familiar piece might sound like a wrong note, but it's actually a way of tweaking an arrangement in an interesting way. The variation is like adding hot pepper to chocolate not expected but unusually delicious.
Baker throws herself into every piece, swaying, bending and punctuating intense musical measures, as evidenced in Vivaldi's piece "Winter" from "The Four Seasons" with the violinist's superb tremolos portraying a shivering winter.
Symphony-goer Trudy Dowling from Provo appreciated Baker's intensity.
"She has a passion," Dowling said. "I love the depth of her feeling her whole body plays the violin. It's her signature."
Performing "What Child Is This?" Baker played so peacefully it appeared, in the quietest of moments, she could lull herself to sleep on the chin rest of her violin. With a building crescendo, an awakening from the symphony beneath Baker's melody reminded listeners that the babe of this hymn is indeed Christ the King.
Seeing Baker perform is a visual treat. As she begins each song she contemplates her part and the space she will fill, sometimes attacking with vigor and other times slowly entering the tempo already set by the symphony.
Those who listen to her Christmas CD won't get the visual treat a live performance offers but can expect something equally delightful.
"Christmas is magical," Baker said. "People have said this CD is one you can listen to over and over and you don't get sick of it.
"People were always asking when I was going to do a Christmas album," she said. "It adds to your day and helps you feel better. It helps you get through the craziness of the holidays."The CD has been on the Classic Billboard charts for seven weeks, currently No. 5. It's available at Deseret Book, the Brigham Young University Bookstore and online.
E-mail: [email protected]