Christmas is a time of reflection. But when the Holidays are over, we often realize that time flew so fast that there was simply no time to reflect. Stephen Wallack’s new Holiday album “Reflections” is like an antidote to the Christmas hustle and bustle. Wallack’s approach to classical and modern carols is both thought-provoking and relaxing. I experienced a deep sense of peace while listening, even as I was making last-minute Holiday preparations. I urge you to make room in your playlist for “Reflections”; you might need it more than you know.
Stephen Wallack started taking piano lessons at age five. While Wallack had an affinity for the music, he struggled greatly with performance anxiety. This anxiety eventually led to him ceasing lessons altogether; however, his curiosity regarding music could not be so easily silenced. During his young years, George Winston was a great inspiration. As Wallack’s abilities grew, so did his desire to learn. In recent years, Wallack released “Chapters”, his debut album whose music captures and brings to life ten moments and memories that have defined him. In 2020, he released two more albums: “Stories” and “Reflections” – both bearing his signature sound.
Deck the Halls
“Deck the Halls” is the triumphant album opener! I absolutely love Wallack’s gentle yet passionate approach to this traditional Welsh carol. Much Christmas music is straightforward and to the point, while Wallack takes his time and deconstructs the melody, refining it and, in a sense, lifts it to new heights. It is honest and heartfelt. It is not often I use these words to describe Holiday music, but here they fit perfectly. Wallack is a genuine piano virtuoso, playing “Deck the Halls” in his unique way. Bravo!
By now, you might think that “Reflections” is all serious, but that is not the case at all. It is actually a very playful release. The intro to “Rudolph” might sound like a synth, but it is actually Wallack muting the strings with his hand inside the instrument. Then the piano is “normal” again, and we are taken on a sleigh ride through a winter wonderland with the ninth and youngest of Santa Claus’s reindeer, Rudolph. The laid-back style really fits the piece, giving us time to breathe and think.
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is delightful and uncomplicated. As we heard on “Chapters”, Wallack plays the piano quite hard – which really fits jubilant Holiday music. This time around, though, his style is a bit gentler – hence the title. I love the intro to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, and how it suddenly “takes off”. Make sure to hold on to your Christmas stocking cap!
The most traditional performance on the album is “We Three Kings”. John Henry Hopkins Jr’s 1857 carol is thoughtful and reflective, making it easy to envision the three kings of the orient. I’m sure they had a lot on their minds.
Away in a Manger
One of the finest pieces on the album is “Away in a Manger”. The piano sounds amazing. At this stage, I have to point out that the recording is outstanding. The piano sounds warm, near and far – with just the right amount of air between the instrument and the microphone.
The next part of the album is highly creative and playful. Wallack’s version of “Jingle Bells” manages to be two things simultaneously, elated and introspective. That is a major accomplishment and very much in tune with the album’s overall feel. The same is true for “Frosty”, although here I would replace the word elated with merry. The “Joy to the World” version is also fascinating. I’m sure Wallack could play this piece ecstatically banging on the keyboard, although this time around, it is all about the piece’s reflective quality (something that we rarely hear, it is usually performed with such force).
Nearer the end, “Oh Christmas Tree” is the center of attention. The gentle “O Tannenbaum” version (usually played with such vigor) is different yet breathtakingly beautiful. “Silent Night” concludes the album reflectively. At this stage, I cannot help thinking that Wallack’s take on these carols is truly groundbreaking. It makes the listener think – and thinking around Christmas time is a good thing.
In conclusion: I have tried in this review not to point out how the year 2020 has been for us all. But it goes without saying that Christmas 2020 is different – all due to Covid19. I believe Stephen Wallack’s “Reflections” is especially relevant this year. We all need to come to terms with the situation and hope for a better 2021. The usual top 20 Christmas hits is perhaps a bit too much. “Reflections”, on the other hand, is unorthodox and fresh. Highly recommended!
For more information and music samples, visit stephenwallackmusic.com
Stephen Wallack’s “Reflections” is now playing on New Age Stars Radio.