Album Review: Stephen Gallucci’s “Embers”

GLENS FALLS – Working on one record can take a wide-ranging amount of time, depending on the artist. For Stephen Gallucci, who has crafted the pieces found on Embers for over a decade, the adage that good things come to those who wait is surely proven on the debut album. In ten instrumental compositions, the pianist and composer of modern “new age” piano, as he himself calls it, takes you on a journey through emotions ranging from lament to happiness. Diving in, sitting down, and immersing oneself in this record, they will find themselves only further drawn in as the album continues along.

The opening and title track, “Embers,” features an oscillation between minor and major tonalities, with the best spacing of tritones, that brings a brilliant wintery scene to mind. Though the song has moments of swelling and varying dynamics, the overall climax is not too brash or loud. The oft passages of tension illustrate embers quite amazingly. A night that has come and gone, the traveler soldiers on, the embers of his fire dying out behind him.

Wonderfully drawing from a romantic pianist, especially that which the title suggests, Gallucci opens “Chopin’s Ghost” with a plaintive pattern. Some parts sound like raindrops; the work often has a sense of showering sadness, a light mist that refuses to let up. As it builds in intensity and the idea develops, it’s very easy to picture the ghost of the great Chopin himself performing the piano.

In the third track, “Wise King,” the piece relies on rubato and feels alone; there’s a sort of waltz feel to it. The push-and-pull during the piece outlines this signature that allows itself well to dancing; a royal gathering easily fits the title.

Stephen deftly begins the development of “Ice Cavern,” track four, by opening with a motif relying on chromaticism and a G-diminished chord. Severe repetition legitimizes the peculiar arpeggio. The repeating motif throughout the entire piece acts as the imagery of an ice cavern growing out in all directions from a defined center. The heavily-romantic trills in the upper register act as a light beaming off the ice or through the entire cavern. In another manner, the rapid-fire unison note lines give an overall sense of uneasiness to the overall piece.

I was quite fond of the theme constructed in “Purgatory”; it utilizes the whole tone scale – one that flawlessly evokes a sense of washy, floating dreaminess. It’s in this dream-state feeling that one pictures a never-ending vastness, albeit monotonous one. Pushing the boundaries for comfort, as far taking it to the very brink of tolerating the repetition, Gallucci melodically outlines a fantastic depiction of purgatory.

The following two pieces, “Loss in C Minor” and “Loss in C# Minor,” are extremely connected. For the former, it’s wanderingly sad, meandering in an extreme fashion. There are rough sections within the piece that develop a type of loss referenced in its title. Oddly, as the case may be, the tune evokes a very similar emotional state in this listener as “Laura’s Theme,” composed by Angelo Badalamenti. In the latter composition, there are times when similarities to Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” and the Russian folk song “Korobushka” pop up. Filled with regret, remorse, and more, the crushingly sad piece ends with a crescendo and fades out.

Furthering his list of influences, the next piece, “Fantasy On a Theme of Dvorak,” gives Gallucci’s source of inspiration in the title; the music backs it up. Opening with a variation of the “Serenade of Strings” by Dvorak. From beginning to end, the idea develops while occasionally returning to the open passage. An interesting change is also noted, as this is not the original key of the Dvorak piece.

Bringing forth huge chords and chordal movements the likes of Rachmaninoff, “Elegy” is filled to the brim with a sense of lament and longing. A relationship? The mourning of a loved one? There are an infinite number of possibilities to be mined for interpretation. At one point, the Rachmaninoff influence grows in prominence as listeners are greeted by a section that is highly reminiscent of the Prelude in C Sharp Minor.

Finishing up the record, “Farewell” begins with a very concise and efficient development of a theme. This theme again reminds the listener of a movement within “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” by Liszt.

After listening through Embers, it is easy as heck to pinpoint how much the Romantic era of classical music influences Stephen Gallucci. Reimaginations of works by composers such as Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin fling off his fingers, and he even adds in random doozies, such as the curveball of a possible Stravinsky influence. Fans of romantic classical music, as well as those looking to be mesmerized by wonderful stories portrayed through music alone, should give this record a try! Available on all streaming platforms, they will surely enjoy it.

Comments are closed.