There is a remarkable literary quality to Stephen Wallack’s music. Even without knowing that his latest album is called “Stories”, you will sense how each note is a word in Wallack’s narrative. His way of playing – enthusiastic and passionate – tells a part of the story. It adds life and colors and gives structure. Much like a good book, “Stories” will keep you at the edge of your seat until the end.
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 today’s topic “Stories” and the Holiday-themed “Reflections”.
In terms of layout, “Stories” takes us from “Sunrise” to “Goodnight”. The first piece is an almost five minutes long tribute to the sun and the dawning day. Each note is like a ray of light, sharp and warm. There is a hopeful quality to “Sunrise” that instantly sets the mood. This new day is filled with opportunities and life. It is a terrific album opener!
From his previous albums, we know that Wallack is not afraid of contrasts – and “Stories” is no exception. The way “Rain” starts is as surprising as rain on a picnic; There is so much movement. The notes are like raindrops, falling with gentle beauty – one of nature’s wonders. Notice how Wallack uses echo and how it takes the sound to a new level. This is a piece you can feel, like raindrops on your skin.
My favorite piece on the album is “Children”. The build-up is nothing short of masterful; in the beginning, the melody is slow and thoughtful. Then out of the blue, the mood changes. And wow, what a ride Wallack has in store for us! The tension rises suddenly. I almost couldn’t believe my ears the first time I heard it; the conclusion moved me to tears. There are many ways to interpret this song, but one thing seems certain; having children change our lives forever. “Children” is hands down a genuine and hard-hitting solo piano masterpiece! But don’t take my words for it, check it out yourself:
And Wallack doesn’t stop there; “Excelsior” takes the album “even upwards” (although after “Children” I didn’t think that was possible). The piece has class and a refined attitude that seems to fit Wallack’s way of playing nicely. And lo and behold, the conclusion might blow out your speakers! It is as loud as it is perfect. Bravo!
“The Dancer” takes the album in a new direction. I’m sure this piece is like a dream for a ballet dancer or choreographer. It has so many interesting twists and turns along the way. Several times it almost stops, then starts again – making it into a very interesting listen. “My Love” is another jewel. It describes a love without compromises or faults, it is genuine and will last a lifetime.
The last part of the album is relaxing and contemplative. The five and a half minutes long “Cousins” is playful and almost like an EP in its own right. “Eight” continues where “Cousins” left off, confirming that Wallack is a storyteller of extraordinary power. Talking about artistic excellence: “Monet” has a lovely touch of the impressionists – before “Goodnight” signs off the album on a high note. It is a feel-good bedtime story before heading into dreamland.
In conclusion: Solo piano is often considered to be an anonymous genre. Piano music quickly fades into the background, and after a few minutes, you almost forget that it is there. “Stories” by Stephen Wallack is not like that at all. As indicated by the title, Wallack has stories to tell. This is an album for active listening, it demands your attention. But that is a little price to pay when the music is as inspired and rewarding as this. It is Stephen Wallack’s best to date and a confirmation that he is a solo piano star in the making.
For more information and music samples, visit stephenwallackmusic.com