These songs were inspired by notable life events in his personal life, thus the album title “Chapters.” This debut album has been shoe-horned into the New Age genre but fits better in the Neo-Classical genre. The defining characteristic of New Age music is its spirit-evoking and calming effects, and the music here isn’t calming! Wallack’s original songs are strongly rhythmic and energetic.
Wallack’s playing style differs from most solo pianist albums released over the past several years. Solo piano artists typically lean toward romantic, lyrical neo-classical compositions. Wallack, in contrast, is the master of the blitz-riff – showy repeated riffs, dynamic ostinatos, and strong chord patterns with relatively few arpeggios diversifying the textures. He takes great advantage of the percussive qualities of the piano as an instrument, a rare trait in the solo piano genre. His compositions lean heavily on open fifths, which give an ambiguous sense of harmony – not major or minor, but the dramatic possibility holds the listener in a state of anticipation.
One of the songs I liked best is Track 4: Trains. The piano is used quite effectively to convey a sense of power, motion, and destination.
Wallack’s signature sound of power and drive tends to include a bit too much heavy-handed playing for my personal taste, and a bit less sustain pedal would improve the sound quality and clarity of the fast-flying notes. There’s not much that’s soft or delicate on the album; Track 9: Holiday begins with a light touch but quickly shifts back to the loud playing. This might have something to do with the type of piano that was used for the recordings – a Steinway S acoustic grand. Steinways have a very firm action-regulation and it takes some pounding to sound the notes. Compare recordings of Vladamir Horowitz to Artur Rubenstein on Steinways (particularly their renditions of the Rach 2) to understand this difference. Rubenstein had his personal Steinway re-regulated to very soft action, and sometimes broke strings in concert. A Steinway technician would restring and re-tune the instrument between songs. Rubenstein was able to achieve lightning fast riffs with the lightest imaginable touch - his signature style was a legacy of being taught by a student of Chopin’s. Wallach may discover that his personal playing style sounds better on instruments with a softer action-regulation; an older Yamaha or an antique Apollo grand piano would better suit and encourage a greater range of dynamic expression.
The album as a 5-star rating on Amazon, showing that listeners approve of the neo-classical and cinematic material on the album. This is not music for meditation, but people may find they enjoy using it for tasks that require bursts of energy and a single-minded focus on completing whatever they’re doing.
~review by Elizabeth Hazel
Artist: Stephen Wallack
10 tracks, 54:46 minutes
CD $12.97, mp3 $9.49.