Italian Preludes, Nos. 1-8
James Michael Stevens
2020 / James M Stevens Music
Review by Kathy Parsons
Italian Preludes, Nos. 1-8 is a collection of eight original piano solos composed and performed by James Michael Stevens. Inspired by the mix of emotions we are all feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially the heartbreaking stories coming out of Italy, Stevens wrote this music during March and April 2020 as our current circumstances were mounting. The music pays homage to Italy, “where so much of our classical music comes from.” The moods and emotions expressed in the Preludes are varied and the compositional style is primarily neo-classical, keeping the melodies simple but emotionally impactful and honest.
James Michael Stevens is the Chairman of the Music Department at Welch College in Tennessee and earned his D.M.A. in composition from University of Kentucky in 2004. A frequent recipient of the ASCAP Standard Award in Composition, Stevens has composed music for piano, choir, and organ as well as other solo instruments with and without piano accompaniment.
Italian Preludes begins with “Prelude No. 1 - Quietened Thoughts,” a mournful and incredibly beautiful piece that expresses deep sorrow and loss. Stevens keeps the piece simple, making it all the more emotional. The powerful drama of “Prelude No. 2 - Dark Waters” feels bleak and hopeless, as I’m sure much of Italy has felt through the worst of the pandemic. “Prelude No. 3 - Tuscany Fields” is much lighter although far from joyful. Relaxed with a touch of romance, it could be a slow dance under the stars. “Prelude No. 4 - Italian Shores” has a calming ebb and flow that expresses the peaceful warmth of a daydream. “Prelude No. 5 - Silent Coliseum” is very dark, spare and haunting - almost ambient. “Prelude No. 6 - Lullabies Forgotten” recalls a more innocent time when the future looked brighter and hope wasn’t in such short supply. Nostalgic and sentimental, it touches the heart. “Prelude No. 7 - Beautiful Were The Times” is also nostalgic and sentimental, but is much different from the piece before it. Freely expressive as well as introspective, it conveys the feelings of looking back on favorite memories throughout a life well-spent. The eighth prelude, “Italiano Notterno” (“Italian Nocturne”), is bittersweet yet tender and would make a wonderful closing theme to a movie.
This beautiful album is available digitally from Amazon, iTunes and Spotify, and fellow pianists will be happy to note the there is a PDF songbook with the music from this album available from SheetMusicPlus.com (also reviewed on this site).
May 19, 2020