Pianist/composer David Hicken released two solo piano albums in 2016 that are very different from each other. The first, "Stories of You," is a collection of beautiful love songs, and the second, "The Art of Piano," is very “big” and dramatic - quite different from the three albums ("Goddess", "Angels," and "Faeries") that launched his solo piano career in 2007 and 2008, but in a similar vein to his popular arrangement of “The Bell Carol” in 2013. One of the beauties of being an independent artist is the freedom to go in any direction you choose, although there is always some risk involved with disappointing or even alienating fans of a certain style. With Portrait of a Pianist, there is a wonderful mix of graceful, lyrical ballads and more virtuosic, powerful pieces. For the most part, the styles alternate from one piece to the next, but even though they are very different from each other, there is never a jarring shift. I suppose this could be patterned after the mood and stylistic changes from one movement to the next in classical sonatas and concerti. Hicken has been describing his style as “classical crossover” for several years now, and I think this album defines that genre very well. Hicken is a classically-trained organist from a very young age, and several of the faster pieces on this album reflect the influence of some of JS Bach’s contrapuntal organ pieces as well as Hicken’s love for and phenomenal skills in playing that style of music. The slower pieces are gentler yet deeply emotional. It’s a wonderful and well-rounded portrait of one of my very favorite composer/pianists. Fairly-advanced pianists should also check out the companion sheet music book.
"Portrait of a Pianist" starts out with a “bang” with “Repercussions,” a fireball of energy that all but ignites the piano - a very impressive opening! “Magdalena” is very much the opposite of “Repercussions” with its tender, graceful melody and smoldering underlying passion. “Valhalla” is one of my favorites. Fast and dramatic with pulse-pounding suspense and mystery, it’s also great fun to play! The beautifully-flowing “Delia” expresses a deep sense of longing. “Canon in D Meets Ode To Joy” is a fascinating pairing as the two pieces weave in and out of each other, sometimes overlapping with one hand playing each melody - a lovely medley of two very popular classical gems. “Through the Veil” is another favorite. Poignant and bittersweet, the gorgeous melody draws you in as it touches the heart. I love “Espionage!” Truly a tribute to Bach with both hands dancing all over the piano keyboard in the style of a Baroque toccata, Hicken expresses the pure joy of playing the piano with this one! “Fountains Abbey” is my favorite of the slower pieces. Expressing deep sadness with grace and an elegant touch, this one can break your heart! “A King’s Ransom” returns to a high energy level that conveys a sense of intrigue but also a playful sense of fun. It would be excellent behind the closing credits of an exciting movie! “Un Sospiro” translates as “A Sigh,” and the delicacy of this piece closes the album in a style quite the opposite to how it began.
I can guarantee that "Portrait of a Pianist" will be one of my Favorite Albums of the year! I give it my highest recommendation!