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CD REVIEW: Charles Szczepanek - Winter Day Dreaming
By Dan Cohen - 01/28/2015 - 04:23 PM EST

Artist: Charles Szczepanek
Album: Winter Day Dreaming
Genre: Easy Listening
Sounds Like: George Winston,
Technical Grade: 10/10
Commercial Value: 10/10
Overall Talent Level: 9/10
Best Songs: Carol of the Bells, The Gift of Noel, Angels We Have Heard On High
CD Review: Are you sitting down? Perhaps with a comforter around you, a loved one near, a hot beverage of choice nearby and a fire blazing in the hearth? Now you may be ready for Charles Szczepanek's Winter Day Dreaming, an album of simple, soulful solo piano interpretations of classic Christmas melodies, along with some of his own works. His playing is clean and crisp, the production even moreso. This is someone who clearly cares about his piano sound, as he not only played but is apparently the chief engineer on the recording. He also credits the piano (a Mason and Hamlin BB), and not one but two piano technicians (oh, ok, Scott Helms and Rick Florence), which is kind and understandable. The piano sound is clear and rich, and Szczepanek's playing sensitive and soaring by turns. His Carol of the Bells is a wonder. I always thought of it as an ur-waltz, the definition of 3/4 time, but he gives it a lilting 6/8 feel that takes it in new directions, and adds arpeggiation and other pianistic filigrees that he pulls off with ease and panache. The Gift of Noel, the improv that started it all, according to his liner notes, is a tender mash-up of the well-known Shaker song Simple Gifts, and the soaring Christmas Carol Noel, Noel. He makes both sing, and the confluence of both seem as natural as snow on a winter's morn. O Holy Night gets the opposite treatment, at first. He plays the melody, very slowly and deliberately, over only the most skeletal accompaniment. The song gains momentum as he adds parts and accompaniment. I wish in fact he had been a bit more free with the melody as he went along, created a kind of theme and variations with it.
But no matter. Szczepanek has created a rich and full album, very pretty, and yet not arranged in your typical easy listening paint-by-numbers manner. His work shows a keen musical mind at work and repays repeated listening. Even after Christmas. Just don't attempt to write his name after an overabundance of egg nog.

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