Reviews by Juan Zaratoga

Reviews by Juan Zaratoga

Review of Piano Portraits submitted on 25th July 2017

"Piano portraits" is arguably the best piano album Rick Wakeman has produced so far. Inspired performance, brilliant arrangements, a rich piano sound of his favorite Steinway Grand and quality recording.
Most of the 15 titles of this CD have been performed or recorded by Mr. Wakeman before and, for several of them, quite often already. But the performances on this CD are beyond any doubt superior to any of Mr. Wakeman previous piano albums. Most of the arrangements are new, sounds fresh and captivating. Some of the pieces are recorded for the first time ("I'm not in love" by E. Stewart, "Dance of the Damselflies", a new composition of his own).
The whole album comes very nicely as a 15-part suite forming a coherent musical unit. Each piece delivers a different mood and color and has, so to say, an individual image (hence, "Portraits"). The shift from one to another is clever in tone and character change. Wakeman works like a portraitist painter approaching some well-known faces but still leaving his own mark. The well-known melodies are embellished with a special, immediately recognizable and sometimes very personal style.
The playing quality is high. The master of the electronic keyboards shows his skills with a subtle acoustic piano sound and well controlled playing technique, flawless almost all throughout this recording. His touché is light and highly ornamented, nearly "mozartian" in style. You would not expect here a "beethovenian" piano sound, which his colleague late Keith Emerson was famous for.
The trademark «Wakeman arpeggios» are here, but they are never overwhelming as the melodies really shine out. Counterpoint and clever harmonic changes keep listener keen with unexpected details and turns. The arrangements of the classic works ("Clair de lune", "Swan lake", "Berceuse") do simplify drastically the original scores. But it is done with style and taste and never falls to some impersonal consumer muzak.
Highly recommended not only to Wakeman's fans but to all for whom the good music and talented musicianship are not a matter of classification into "pop", "rock", "classical" or "modern".

Review of Piano Odyssey submitted on 24th January 2019

Rick Wakeman’s performance and arrangement on the opening track “While my guitar gently weeps” is an absolute masterpiece. Must hear those piano harmonics blending with the string orchestra’s harmonies and choral voices. Incredible beauty!

A man who spent his life on getting orchestral feeling out of the synthesizers, mello-/birotrons and other electric keyboards is back on the "acoustic planet". With stunning results all over this CD for piano, string orchestra and choir. Plus a flamenco-style acoustic guitar - by courtesy of a friend, the great Brian May - within a terrific rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody", to finish this adventurous "Odyssey"!

Mr. Wakeman never did music like someone else. And sometimes succeeded to impose his own rules of how music is to be done. His orchestral rock epics in mid-70-ties took the scene by storm and created a new event in the British music history. Since then he tried numerous come-backs including some as a piano-solo performer. Initiated by "Country Airs" (1986) and "The Piano Album" (1995), those attempts made a spectacular breakthrough in 2017 with "Piano Portraits" making charts sustainably and gaining him a "Silver Album" in UK sales. More importantly, Mr. Wakeman, now in his late 60-ties, was imposing once again his mark on the music business. And breaking once again the limits of what is conventionally considered as modern, classic or pop!

The 2018 "Piano Odyssey" (released on Sony Classical) is a brave step further in that direction. Essentially, its chamber music. Some of which is very personal and deeply emotional (his new compositions: "Rocky"; "Cyril Wolverine"). Some others are post-romantic ("After the Ball" connected to its source of inspiration, the "Liebesträume" by Liszt), or quite baroque in style ("Jane Seymour", sounding here more Vivaldi-an than Bach-ish as in its original on Six Wives). The pop-orientated arrangements are less numerous here compared to "Piano Portraits". Somehow of a less immediate access than the former, "Piano Odyssey" also made UK charts, albeit this time briefly!

More importantly, this album may well initiate a kind of a new brand in Wakeman's production. As one report summarized (amazon.com): "if Rick Wakeman means to reinvent himself in the autumn of his career, then he's succeeded in the first step, and may he take more such steps, if that's what he wants. I'm in!"

What's next? A Concerto for Piano with a full Symphony Orchestra? It would be a nice follow-up to the "The Pearl and Dean Piano Concerto” (1974). Would Sony Classical sign Wakeman for that? They do not know what they miss if they wouldn't...!