Winter’s Heart is the debut solo album by Andrew James Johnson, released this week. According to the press release I received a few months back,
“Andrew’s music has an honesty and openness that reflect his life journey in a meditative and truthful way that universally appeals to listeners of all ages.”
I was naturally curious – and the advance review copy has been spinning in my CD player fairly regularly over the last few weeks. Here’s my review…
Andrew is a composer and pianist who grew up in Birmingham, England, and despite having no formal training on the piano in his childhood, showed a precocious fascination with classical music from an early age. After a chance encounter with a set of records that featured works by Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin, Andrew became completely immersed by what he heard, memorising and playing the music fluently.
After his parents agreed to pay for lessons, Andrew’s eagerness and musicality developed rapidly into a passion for piano performance. Subsequently moving into composition, which he studied at the London College of Music, Andrew began to draw upon a combination of classical training and contemporary influences.
His compositional style combines rich harmonic language with expansive pianistic techniques, revealing the influence of the Romantic-era composers that so inspired him in his youth. Many of Andrew’s pieces start their life as explorations in improvisation, and there is a rhapsodic quality running through their core.
Andrew’s professional career has included commissions for theatre, film and television, as well as writing advertisement music for brands such as Timotei and HSBC.
He has also performed in rock bands, and the directness of his musical language is perhaps less surprising given his childhood memories of growing up surrounded by the music of The Beatles, Elton John and David Bowie.
According to the CD booklet,
“The album ‘Winter’s Heart’ is a collection of intimate solo piano pieces composed by Andrew over the last few years. Drawing on his life experiences and his affinity to the natural world, Andrew has created a unique and beautiful sound world that reflects his search for truth and meaning in a confused world. It’s music that is introspective but passionate, transcending yet bold; a post-romantic vision of emotional and human expression.”
There’s certainly no denying that this album is a compelling listen. I was immediately grabbed by opening track Echoes of Love, which steadily builds from its sensitive initial theme into gorgeous flights of fancy. The upbeat pop-piano styling of Beyond follows, and then the exhilerating Elysian Dreams.
The epic title track Winter’s Heart features the Chamber Ensemble of London, recorded at RAK Studios. The icy tones of the violins in the central section are particularly evocative. Of all the tracks, this is the one that perhaps most reminds me of the music of Ludovico Einaudi.
Elsewhere, the music on this album reminds me more of earlier recordings by George Winston and David Lanz, combining pop and romantic classical influences with an effusive pianism to great effect.
But throughout the album, Andrew has his own unique musical personality which shines consistently, helping to unify this as an effective and engaging release.
Perhaps my personal favourite track is Taylor’s Theme, on which Andrew is joined by cellist Henry Mann, adding a depth to the composition that I found particularly affecting.
The pop piano of Na Nalu is also especially effective, and I really admire the communicative warmth of A Distant Time.
You can get a good idea of Andrew James Johnson’s music from his SoundCloud page here.
Winter’s Heart was recorded at Skywalker Studios USA and at Steinway Recording UK. The album was engineered, mixed and mastered by Spencer Cozens, who has brought a warmth and directness to the recorded piano sound, without over-compressing the dynamics in the process.
And there are plenty of dynamics here! Andrew’s playing is superb throughout: accurate even in the more virtuosic moments, and sensitive in musical delivery and communication.
The total time is 50’16” and the full track listing as follows:
- Echoes of Love
- Elysian Dreams
- Winter’s Heart (feat. Chamber Ensemble of London)
- Na Nalu
- Taylor’s Theme
- A Great Expectation
- Moonlight Shadows
- Touch of Her
- Out of Solitude
- A Distant Time
- Winter’s Heart (piano solo)
The full-colour booklet includes some beautiful photographs of nature scenes, with details of the recordings.
I have no doubt that this particular album will continue to play here in the Eales household for some time to come, and I warmly recommend it!
Physical and digital versions will be available shortly on Amazon and iTunes.
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