SPARX Review -

SPARX - Christmas Echoes CD Review

SPARX - "Delaware's Award Winning Flute and Harp Duo - Joan Sparks, Flute and Anne Sullivan, Harp."

Mission Statement: "Energy, Virtuosity, and Commitment are the trademark qualities that we as the flute and harp duo, SPARX, strive to attain. We explore the elegance and depth of the flute and harp format and at the same time make as a goal the transcendence of the boundaries the instruments impose. The Christmas Echoes CD is one that we feel reflects the holiness of this special season."

"Inspiration is an unexpected blessing from a unanticipated source - a glance, a word, a remembrance or in the case of this CD, the painting on the cover. We felt that this painting was the visual representation of the mood we would want to create - reflective, intimate, enveloping. The painting, entitled "Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist" - after Botticelli, circa 1866 by Isaac L. Williams (1817-1895)." - Joan Sparks and Anne Sullivan.

About the Artists....

Joan Sparks -

Joan earned her Master of Music Degree at Temple University. In recognition of her extraordinary talent as a performer and a teacher, the Music Teachers National Association honored her with the Master Teacher Certification which is their highest award. She has been mentored by Murry Panitz and Trudy Kane. She has appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Bethlehem Bach Festival Orchestra, and the Delaware Symphony.

Anne Sullivan -

Anne was playing her harp with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the tender age of 12. She received her Bachelors of Music degree from the renowned Curtis Institute of Music, and while a student there won the Hobin Harp Competition.

Joan Sparks and Anne Sullivan co-host and produce a weekly classical music radio show that is on the air regionally in their area. They present a concert series that is heard throughout their home state of Delaware, and even take their concerts on tour throughout Delaware and nationally on occasion. Together, they have earned many national awards for their work, including the Chamber Music America Ensemble Residency Grant, the American composers Forum Performance Incentive Grant, and have twice been the winners of the National Flute Association's Chamber Music Competition.

Joan and Anne are the happiest when they are sharing their musical gifts, inspiring others through teaching and performing together in recitals, residences, family concerts, children's programs, the "connexions" program, and in outreach experiences. A favorite haunt is the Tatnal School Auditorium in Delaware where they are "Artists in Residence." They especially enjoyed performing at A. I. Du Pont Hospital in Wilmington where they brought their music into rooms of bedridden / ill children, introducing them to the emotional, intimate uplifting world of chamber music.

Music Composer Scott Lavender -

He has written or arranged musical scores over 300 pieces for symphony orchestra and smaller ensembles. Chamber orchestras, jazz bands to harp and flute duos, as well as their listening audiences, have been blessed with his innovative arrangements.

SPARX's new CD "Christmas Echoes" is SPARX's third inspired contribution to the chamber music world, that truly is a fulfillment of their goal when it comes to performing music. Their performances are full of energy, virtuosity, and commitment, and is highly recommended by this reviewer to Christians who would like to use music to prepare to have the right heart attitude as we enter into the Advent and Christmas season, and/or wish to keep the joy of Christmas as a focus for the coming year.

The music truly envelopes the listener lifting the listener to another state of awareness, away from the hassles of reality, away from the busyness of our lives, into the realm of delicate, elegant, versatile harp and flute performances of not only three different medleys of traditional Christmas carols, but the works of two Christian master composers, Baroque Period composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), and Romantic Period composer Henri Busser (1872-1973). All the compositions are all flawlessly executed musically, and are truly played from the heart, enabling the listener to catch the true essence of this special season of Christmas, which celebrates the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The five compositions on this CD, "Christmas Echoes," are all uniquely different, each creating its own aura and feel, which washes away all of one's annoyances / troubles of the day and leaves one in a state of inner peace, and reflection, empowering one to focus on the reason for the season.

Reviewing this well-crafted CD was a real blessing to me. I have always enjoyed both flute and harp performances, but the powerful combination of the two, plus great talent, a high standard of musicianship and inspired arrangements was quite a renewing experience. SPARX's music made a personal connection with me, as "the sparks, the emotion, and intimacy of the SPARX experience" washed over my being.Their energy, virtuosity, and commitment is truly showcased in this very fine CD, "Christmas Echoes."

Review of Music

1) SLUMBER SWEET - (An eleven minute medley of Christmas lullabies for the baby Jesus, all creatively arranged by Scott Lavender)

* The transcending ride begins with a truly lovely introduction of a tender, slightly sad flute solo (in a minor key), playing the melody of "Lully-lulay" which flawlessly segues into a beautiful C major rendition of Silent Night, starting with the magical sound of the harp, which carries the melody. For the second verse, the flute takes the melody with the harp providing a combination of an echo of the main melody, broken chords, and harmony to support the flute.

DORMI DOLCISSIMO - The harp plays a variation of the first introduction which once again evolves into a major key for this second carol. Flute and harp once again take turns carrying the melody, providing nice harmony for each other, for this sweet, pure Christmas lullaby.

Two unnamed Christmas lullaby carols, plus "Infant So Gentle" - Melodies are sweetly, tenderly played by the flute, with delicate harp accompaniment, which also carries the melody periodically throughout the pieces.

*AWAY IN THE MANGER - A tender and loving rendition. The flute once again caresses the melody of this beloved carol. I love the versatility of the harp that can play the melody and provide the broken chords at the same time to support the song. The swirling sounds of the harp in some measures adds magic to this favorite.

* 2) SINFONIA - (5.09 minutes) One can describe this piece as light - floating, yet is an energetic, precise, sublime rendition of Johann Sebastian Bach's composition, which was part of his Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, called "Shepherd Music." "The lilting rhythm portrays the pastorale feeling so well. Thank you Bach!" comments Joan.

Once again the listener is taken away by SPARX's great technique, uplifting performances; both the precise, supportive harp chords and the soaring sounds of the flute, which effortlessly, smoothly brings Bachs music to life, making the interval jumps seem easy. These talented musicians make it all sound so easy, as they play Bach's difficult composition with precision, great technique, expression, putting their creative gifts into this marvelous performance. Those who have played woodwind / string instruments know otherwise; Bach's music isn't easy, and has been known to separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls.

3) CHRISTMAS BELLS (WEINACHTSGLOCKEN) (9.01 minutes), which is medley of "Bell" carols, wonderfully arranged by Scott Lavender, which includes "Carol of the Bells", one of my favorites.

Excelerated tinkling of the harp (imitates the sound of bells), and the bright, energetic, flute starts this perky, cheery composition out on the right foot, with the first carol,"Suonate," written in a waltz rhythm.

* Well known carol, "Ding dong, Merrily on High," is precisely played with spirit and joy. Wonderful interplay between harp and flute, each taking a turn to play the melody, offer a counter harmony, supportive chords, etc.

Composition has an interesting major to minor key transition into Carol of the Bells, which has impressive spirited harp part and great energetic flute moments as well, especially when the flute carries the main melody. Can be described as precise, energetic and nicely accented on beat one of each measure.

"Ring Christmas Bells", "Weinnachtsglocken", and "Come Shepherds Come", and few other carols round out this composition nicely. Each is captured in its own persona, own character, nicely expressed by this dynamic duo!

4) LE SOMMEIL DE L'ENFANT JESUS, (The Slumber of Baby Jesus) by French composer, Henri Busser (1872-1973) - Absolutely beautiful rendition of Busser's piece. Harp expressively plays introduction. Starts off with a solemn, plaintive harp solo, which melts into lovely broken chords. Expressive, Legato soulful flute carries the melody, while the Harp plays smooth, precise broken chords and arpeggios. Great dynamics of both players is the icing on the cake!

5) CHRISTMAS ECHOES - Another pleasurable medley of Medieval carols, arranged by the talented Scott Lavender.

*"Domino"- (12th century plainsong). This piece begins with a simple flute solo and exact harp chords, working into interesting variations, with intricate interplay between the harp and flute. A waltz tempo is intermixed.

*"Divinum Mysterium"- Piece is stately, expressive rendition, with flute carrying melody, supported by expressive harp.

*"Nowell"- Nowell- Begins quietly, and slowly builds.

Other beautifully played carols flow along, each with its own spirit and mood.

*"Good Christian Men (Friends) Rejoice" - (Words were originally written in Latin in the 14th century, coupled with a traditional German tune to create this carol. Song was translated into English by John Mason Neale in 1855).

Another favorite of this reviewer. The performance of this carol is a great finale, like a cherry on top of an ice cream soda. Creative introduction that evolves into a rousing rendition of this traditional Christmas praise song that is Dulci Jubilo; bright, intricate, with interesting variations, counter melodies, Nice dynamics and spirit. Ending of carol diminishes to a quiet, reflective mood.

To find out more about SPARX, about their CDs, and to order this must have Chrsitmas CD, "Christmas Echoes," visit their website,

Julie Carr - Reviewer for * * *