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Whereas
By Rebecca Oswald
Label: Self Released
Released 11/7/2011
Whereas tracks
1. The Whisper of the Meaning
2. The Constantly Pulsing Universe Inside Me
3. My Blue Ocean, Your Eyes
4. Each Flower Will Sing Your Song
5. My Solitude Is Entrusted to You
6. The Gentle Rain of Your Pure Love
7. The Place Where Dreams Shine and Fade
8. While Trying to Get Used to Your Absence
9. To Solace My Heart
10. I Must Have Revealed You
11. You Have Never Left
12. A Complete Life in Our Hands
13. Ordinary Bliss
Whereas
Despite the impressionist-like painting of waves crashing on a rocky beach, which graces the cover of Whereas, a collection of 13 solo piano pieces by Rebecca Oswald, the music contained within flows (most of the time) with a quiet simplicity and a subdued sense of drama. While there are powerful moments to be heard, the majority of Oswald's playing style is centered round nuance, subtle melancholy, and gentle evocations of the grayer emotions. This is Oswald's first solo piano disc since 2005, and while it will sound cliche, it was worth the wait. Based on a quick reading of her website, it's apparent that she is a highly sought out composer for all sorts of events, commissioned to write pieces for both ensembles and orchestras. One can clearly see that as talented a solo pianist as she obviously is, she has a lot more on her plate than simply seeking the crown of the next George Winston.

Another evocation of the cover is that it is impressionistic in style (the painting was done by her great uncle), yet not to the point of abstraction. Similarly, the music on Whereas is structured, built around refrains, so it is certainly accessible, but it is not clear-cut pop in nature either, at least not to my ears. There is a noticeable classical influence at times, but that would be expected given the artist's musical background. However, the classical touches are melded to a contemporary/expressionistic style more often than not.

Per the liner notes, the album's 13 tracks are musical response to a series of unpublished poems given to Oswald (it's not stated who wrote the poems, only that they were a gift to the pianist). Many of the poems' stanzas began with "Whereas" hence the CD's title. The songs are responses to the poems themselves (song titles are drawn from the actual poems, so the literary nature of some of them should not be an indication of overly "stuffy" music). One might assume that at least some of the poems deal with somber, if not downright, sad themes, based on the preponderance of downcast minor-key music.

The Whisper of the Meaning opens the album in a mood of quiet introspection, using a particularly evocative refrain on which Oswald displays wonderful balance between her upper and lower register fingering. At times, the delicate nature of her playing is breathtaking, especially in how carefully she measures the silence between notes. The Constantly Pulsing Universe Inside Me begins with a sparse opening salvo of notes soon followed by a rapid pace yet forlorn melody line, again featuring impressive playing technique as notes on the upper register bounce about here and there set against a repeating series on the lower register. At this point it's worth mentioning the excellent job of engineering and mastering done by Ryan Streber and Michael Charles McDonald, respectively. The clarity of the piano is superb, especially on both very low and very high notes.

Other songs include the slow, purposeful, and at times mournful My Blue Ocean, Your Eyes, the tragically romantic The Gentle Rain of Your Pure Love which features some of the stronger, more obvious classical influences on the album, the more uptempo and passionate The Place Where Dreams Shine and Fade and the closing number, Ordinary Bliss, a warm, engaging, yet relatively subdued piece (except for a mid-section that flourishes with celebratory power) bringing Whereas to a fitting conclusion.

I enjoyed Whereas and admire Oswald's abundant playing talent and impressive technique, both of which are evident throughout. By straddling several "types" of solo piano styles, the recording should appeal to a broad range of fans, although lovers of more outright "tuneful" music might find the music a little too downcast, a tad too abstract (but only by comparison) or too introspective. Understanding the genesis and inspiration for the music, one should not expect otherwise, though. Poetry is a highly intimate and personal art form so music which springs forth from it will obviously reflect some of its qualities, which Whereas does.
Rating: Good +   Good +
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 9/21/2012
 
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