2021 / Decca
Review by Kathy Parsons
Stephan Moccio returns to his solo piano roots with Lionheart, a collection of 14 original pieces performed on a felted piano. A classically-trained pianist with Canadian roots, Moccio released his first solo piano album, Exposure, in 2006. He has written chart-topping hits for Miley Cyrus, The Weeknd and Celine Dion and has been nominated for Oscar and Grammy Awards as a producer and songwriter. The music on Lionheart was created during a time of personal change and healing when Moccio spent extended periods in his Laurel Canyon home simply improvising at the piano. The music expresses a variety of emotions and experiences, and the title, Lionheart, was chosen because "it felt right to name the album for the sort of courage that we all want to feel."
If you aren't yet familiar with felted pianos, the process involves placing felt or another soft cloth between the piano hammers and strings to soften the sound of the hammers striking the strings. Sometimes this allows the sounds of the inner workings of the piano action to become part of the music and sometimes those sounds are filtered out. Felting can mute the strings very subtly or a lot, and Moccio uses a bit of both on this album. This felting technique has been around for several years, but has become very popular recently. Moccio's previous two albums on the Decca label were also recorded on felted pianos.
Lionheart opens with "My Beloved Twin Flame," a piece that is very soft, introspective and tinged with melancholy - a very beautiful beginning! The title track expresses a bold sense of self-confidence without being at all boastful or overbearing. "Myrtle" has a very graceful, shimmering effect where the upper half of the piano keyboard has a clear, simple melody, and the lower half is more muted, reminding me a bit of fog rolling over the surface of water. Birds can be heard in the background, adding to the quiet, atmospheric ambiance. "Castles In Spain" has a very visual, soundtrack-like quality that tells a gentle story without words. "After Midnight" expresses stillness and solitude - a man and his piano, perhaps by candlelight. "Le Jardin de Monsieur Monet" evokes the peaceful feeling of being in a beautiful garden with flowers blooming everywhere and the sounds of birds singing nearby - bliss set to music! "Esme's Waltz" makes me think of a young girl dancing in her bedroom, surrounded by her dolls and stuffed animals, dreaming of what life might be holding for her as she grows up - very sweet and innocent. "Alice's Wonderland" is mysterious and magical, but something isn't quite right.... "The Past Is Never Gone" is my favorite piece on the album and is both deeply emotional and introspective. The hushed feeling of the piano and the sound of Moccio breathing make the music even more intimate and alive. "Halston" has an intriguing music video that goes with it. The music is mournful and the video appears to be about a detective trying to solve the puzzle of a missing little girl. Oh, the power of music to make us feel someone else's painful loss and grief. The album comes to a close with the sparkling "Fireflies," a lively piece that never stops moving.
New music from Stephan Moccio is always a treat, and Lionheart is exceptional! It is one of the four nominees for "Album of the Year" on Whisperings Solo Piano Radio. The album is available from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and streaming sites such as Spotify. I give it both thumbs up!
February 19, 2022
Review by Michael Debbage