Album: Winter Fantasy
Artists: David Arkenstone and Charlee Brooks


0040815bI have a feeling with the advent of multi-GRAMMY nominee David Arkenstone’s latest recording that Webster’s Dictionary may need to re-define the word “prolific.” He certainly brings new meaning to the term having released 4 new albums in the last half year – and all completely different, I might add. Over the past couple months, in addition to this release, I’ve written feature articles on David’s new age/Celtic-tinged album, The Fairy Garden, and his sonic adventure into the world of ambient electronic chill music on Songs From The Aqua Lounge.


On Winter Fantasy, David revisits his highly successful creative collaboration with gifted davidcharleeinamoratabannervocalist Charlee Brooks. Last year, the award-winning duo released their romantic Inamorata, and in 2013, the imaginative and enchanting Lovéren. On Winter Fantasy, subtitled “Songs and carols of Christmas,” David and Charlee delve into a fascinating catalog of holiday and seasonal music. Winter Fantasy, however, is not David’s first holiday album and follows his highly regarded Christmas SpiritCeltic Christmas, and Christmas Lounge releases. Often compared to Yanni and Mannheim Steamroller, David’s music has long been synonymous with the holidays. His holiday tunes are traditional to many and are played by symphonies as well as accompanying intricate programmed light displays.


Here, David talks a bit about this new album with Charlee Brooks: “Winter Fantasy is a soundtrack for holiday gatherings. Green Hill (record label) suggested we do another album for them and felt our Christmas album would be a flagship holiday release and that the music would become a holiday tradition for many. When you get an opportunity to do a Christmas album, you want it to be special. I wanted to bring something new to the genre. I researched a lot of music in an effort to discover some lesser-known songs like ‘Gaudete’ and ‘The Bells of Christmas’ (by Loreena McKinnitt). I searched for songs from around the world that people aren’t as familiar with. I enjoy discovering some new-to-most-people tunes. There are 2 original songs (‘Winter Fantasy’ and ‘New Snow’) along with traditional renditions of some lesser-known gems in the holiday genre.”


david-arkenstone-portraitDavid goes on to reflect about the making of this album: “I always enjoy working with incredibly talented musicians like Susan Winsberg (flutes/pennywhistle), Luanne Homzy (violin/viola) and Stephanie Bennett (harp). The opportunity to use a choir was delightful…. A choir, conducted by Seth Osburn, brings an ancient group atmosphere and deep emotional feelings to several of the songs. Winter Fantasy is a cross section of holiday music. The use of bells, ethereal voices, and this particular combination of songs paints a fantasy picture of winter wonder. This album also shows a subtle respect for the origin of the season.”


Right from the beginning of the opening track, “The First Noel,” the stage is set with the 2d7b27_de678233ed2b454c8d6facbdbd4f67e5-1spellbinding ambiance that David’s music is known for. Not unexpectedly, a wee bit of Celtic flavor is portrayed by the harp, pennywhistle, violin, and earthy percussion. Charlee’s vocals are absolutely stunning and gave me chills when I first heard the song. The arrangement is quite striking and according to David: “This album didn’t lend itself to radical interpretations or ‘lounge’ versions. This album is more contemporary-traditional…with flair. We did, however, push the envelope a bit with ‘Gaudete’ and ‘First Noel.’” With regard to this track, that last statement is putting it mildly, as the envelope is definitely pushed both melodically and structurally. It’s certainly not your grandmother’s “First Noel.” This version is quite cinematic, and I could imagine it in a Disney film soundtrack.


David and Charlee’s rendition of “What Child Is This” is deeply moving and sentimental, which is not surprising since, as David shared: “Both this song and “O Holy Night” are very personal to Charlee. She’s always wanted to record them.” After a medley of “Deck The Halls/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” we come to “The Bells of Christmas” by Loreena McKinnitt. It was interesting to hear Charlee singing this as her voice has somewhat of a similar feel and range as Loreena, yet is distinctive in its own right. However, I’m sure that fans of Loreena and Enya will be delighted by the stirring vocals of Charlee Brooks as well.


Following this is the first of their original compositions, and quite an exquisite piece it is. The heartfelt lyrics Charlee wrote for this song, which she sang so beautifully, backed by a choir in places, perfectly capture the warmth and spirit of the season:

“Wander a snow-covered town1255ed70e91ef2e700cb1afe71422037
Lit up like stars in the evening
Warmed by a fire, the sound of a choir
Feels like home.


Kettle is whistling loud
Waking us up early morning
Familiar faces smile
Again a child… winter fantasy.


One of the lesser known songs mentioned above is “Noel Nouvelet,” which is an old French tune that David heard on his last trip to Paris. While it is always nice to hear the traditional carols we are familiar with, I also enjoyed experiencing something not heard before to add diversity to the mix. It is a gorgeous piece that is both earthy and ethereal. The other original composition is “New Snow,” which is also one of the few instrumental tracks on the album. David calls it “impressionistic” and I would agree, although not in the gauzy dreamy way that term often refers to, as it has quite a lively and joyous air. Very nice!


However, a bit of dreamy ambiance does characterize their version of “Veni Veni Emmanuel” as Charlee’s angelic vocals are enhanced by the accompaniment of celestial choir, harp, and strings, elevating the spirit of the listener to lofty realms. Of this song David shared: “Like “Gaudete,” “Emmanuel” is ancient, old Latin/Gregorian. We liked how it fit with the other selections. That imagesthis music has survived many centuries without the benefit of any mass communication, almost purely through word of mouth, is a miracle. That they exist so that we can do our interpretation is wonderful!” The album draws to a ringing conclusion with one of my favorite holiday songs, “Carol of the Bells.” This instrumental piece features Luanne Homzy on violin and viola and in David’s words: It evokes some special memories. It’s so hypnotic and reminds me of being in a room where the only light is from the Christmas tree.”


A word that many listeners associate with the music of David Arkenstone is “enchanting,” and Winter Fantasy definitely fits that description. David has a flair for orchestration and arrangement that is unparalleled in the new age music genre, as well as being a highly gifted musician who plays a wide range of instruments. And his musical collaboration with vocalist extraordinaire Charlee Brooks most certainly adds to the magic. It takes a lot for a holiday album to stand out in this crowded field, and Winter Fantasy has what it takes to do just that. The combination of much loved traditional songs along with intriguing lesser-known ones, and two original tunes makes for an exceptional blend that is likely to become a seasonal classic.




And here is some breaking news… A 15 city Winter Fantasy tour has just been announced!

This 74b6c4879bde35900a03f3c76aadd301holiday extravaganza will be on the road from December 6 – 23, 2016 and includes shows in Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and Maine. Joining performer/multi-instrumentalist David Arkenstone is his band of versatile world musicians: Grammy®-winning flutist Susan Craig Winsberg; Wisconsin based recording artist and virtuoso pianist Kostia Efimov; fiery violinist Natasha Ratz; exceptional international percussionist David Leach; creative world music percussionist Joshua Amyx; and, accordionist extraordinaire Terri Conti. According to David: “Winter Fantasy takes everyone ‘Around The World One Winter’s Eve’. The show is a magical evening of festive original and traditional holiday tunes for the whole family.” For more information, please visit:



Click the links below to hear samples and/or purchase this album: