2020 / Decca
Review by Kathy Parsons
Winter Poems is pianist/composer Stephan Moccio’s first Christmas album and his second release on the Decca Records label. The fourteen tracks include solo piano arrangements of eleven familiar Christmas carols and three original piano solos composed for this album. The album was recorded on a “felted” piano where a piece of felt (or other soft cloth) is placed between the piano strings and the hammers, creating a very gentle, muted effect. The piano is generally classified as a percussion instrument, and this simple alteration removes the percussive sound (as well as many of the expressive dynamics) of the piano. It often allows some of the inner workings of the piano action to be heard and even become a part of the music, but that isn’t obvious on this album.
In addition to his solo piano work, the Canadian-born Stephan Moccio has been actively involved in music for pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Celine Dion as well as soundtrack music for films and television. He has been nominated for Grammy and Academy Awards, and recently returned to his classical roots and solo piano. Of this new album, he is quoted as saying: “My intention with this instrumental music, is that these poems and hymns will transcend cultures. These timeless melodies are like wordless poems, told with simply one instrument, my piano. My hope is to have every listener feel like I am playing to them solely.”
Winter Poems begins with Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here,” the theme from the beloved TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Slow, wistful and dreamy, I always love hearing this song! “The Little Drummer Boy” is another contemporary Christmas classic, and Moccio keeps it simple and innocent. “Walking In the Air” is one of my favorites. Composed by Howard Blake for the 1982 animated film, “The Snowman,” the haunting melody is allowed to shine with minimal accompaniment - magical! “Carol of the Bells” works well in many different musical genres and styles, and Moccio’s arrangement is very subtle and quiet. “Frost” is one of the original pieces and captures a sparkling chill. The felted piano sound really works on Moccio’s delicate arrangement of “What Child Is This?” and gives it the feeling of a quiet lullaby. “Wistful” is another original and could be about the innocence of a child dreaming of Santa’s arrival or it could be about an adult missing someone dear or thinking of Christmases past - beautiful and very tender. Saving my favorite track for the end, Moccio’s sweet and nostalgic “Winter Waltz,” overflows with emotion and longing. It’s easy to imagine graceful ice skaters on a frozen pond or a solo dancer expressing herself in the twinkling moon-lit snow.
Winter Poems is a great addition to anyone’s Christmas music collection. The arrangements bring out the best of the familiar songs and the originals add their own kind of sparkle. The album is available from Amazon and Apple Music/iTunes as well as streaming sites such as Spotify. Cheers!
December 11, 2020
Review by Michael Debbage