"Surrender" is a wonderfully rich and deeply personal collection of original piano solos by Rebecca Kragnes. The pieces are varied in mood and style, but each illustrates a life experience, exploring a range of emotions.
Both Rebecca and her husband, Phil, are blind and both are very involved with their guide dogs, so some of the songs are about them. Rebecca lost her beloved Tanner to illness awhile back, and worked with Shelly for about nine months. She loved that dog very much, but it just wasn't working out, creating another loss and sadness at having to give her up, but knowing that it was the best thing for herself as well as the good-hearted dog. After another difficult period, along came Wynell, and the two clicked and have been a team ever since. "Wanetta's Gift" is a loving tribute to Phil's dog for trying to fill the gap that was left during the time when Rebecca was without a dog. Lively and upbeat, this song dances with life and joy. "Second Chance" is Shelly's song, and is bittersweet but full of love. Elegant and graceful with its gentle rubato, this one tugs at the heartstrings. "Sunlight Dance" is Wynell's song, full of energy and life. From the liner notes: "After a period of darkness, in walked happiness and love on four paws."
My favorite track is "Silver Lining," a piece that is paradoxically both light and haunting. One can feel a sense of contentment, but also a longing. I also really like "Laughter," a light and sprightly "ode to joy." "Wander-Ring" is also especially beautiful. The piece "wanders" in a circular form - introspective and a little dark. The title song is about "surrendering" to grief and letting yourself heal by experiencing the pain rather than avoiding it. Deeply emotional, but not wrenching, this piece explores the rebuilding process of coming out of a period of deep loss and sadness.
Kragnes opens the CD with "Love Is Blue," the only cover tune on the album. That song was the theme of my junior prom in high school, so it was a happy surprise to find it included in this excellent collection. "Surrender" is available from www.rebeccak.com. Very highly recommended!
The third release from Minneapolis pianist Rebecca Kragnes is yet another solid addition to the new age solo piano repertoire. The album contains only one cover tune, a sparkling original version of the timeless classic "Love is Blue", immortalized in the 1960's by the great Paul Mauriat and his orchestra. The remainder of the disc is comprised of original compositions for solo piano, mainly based on Rebecca's day-to-day life experiences, the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows, and her personal interactions with people, animals, and nature alike. She makes full use of the instrument, exploring all the colours and timbres of the piano while skillfully traversing its entire range.
The selections found on this album range from light and airy tracks like "Laughter" and "Sunlight Dance", to dark and somber pieces such as the title track "Surrender". The album concludes with a lullaby called "Slumber's Caress" that will help soothe your soul.
Rebecca is definitely not afraid to let her emotions and thoughts pour out of her musical offerings, and she notes that writing music is "an actual part of the best person I am". With this release it is obvious she has become even better!
While the music recorded here contains echoes of her mentor and executive producer, the charismatic pianist David Lanz, it is no less distinctly Rebecca Kragnes. Her music remains her very own personal statement to us the listener. And while she states on the album cover that "after doing all I can to stay afloat, it is difficult but necessary to ride out life's storms - to surrender", there is obviously no resignation in the music presented on this album. She is quite simply put a talented musician and composer who is effectively learning her craft while steadily improving her final product.
So for those of you who like their solo piano music uncluttered and straight from the heart, Surrender is a "can't miss". At about 48 minutes in length it's a bit short and leaves you wanting for more, but it is nonetheless a fine acquisition to add to your solo piano collection.
Anyone who can open her solo piano album with a cover of "Love is Blue," and make it work, automatically scores some points with yours truly. Rebecca Kragnes, a promising piano artist from my hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, admirably tweaks the famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) romantic ballad, making it her own, and for that alone I say "Bravo!" The rest of this album (her third self-released effort) displays her ability and flair for composing and performing across a variety of new age music piano styles, from uptempo and cheery ("Wanetta's Gift," "Laughter," "Sunlight Dance") to pensive and reflective ("Wander-Ring," "Surrender"). For an independent release, the recording quality is excellent, the piano perfectly balanced so as to not sound either shrill or muffled. Of course, once you find out that David Lanz served as executive producer (as he has on all of this artist's releases so far), this should come as no surprise. In addition, from an artistic standpoint, Lanz is not about to work with someone of mediocre talent; Kragnes proves she is no slouch when it comes to either artistic inspiration or virtuosity on her instrument. Thankfully, she keeps melodrama in check for almost the entire recording, only once or twice over-reaching with some crescendo work (as if she were both bolding and underlining an emotion to make sure you get what she is trying to "say").
For me, the softer pieces elicit a more positive reaction, but that's a matter of my personal taste in piano music more than a reflection that these tracks are inherently better. Whether the soft-as-a-flannel-sheet closing number "Slumber's Caress" or the playful "Sparkle Spring" (which, at times, reminds me of a cross between Wayne Gratz and Robin Spielberg), lovers of melodic and accessible (but not overly commercial or trite) solo piano music should enjoy Surrender. Kragnes, who is visually challenged, (in fact, some of the songs are inspired by Rebecca's and her blind husband's guide dogs) plays with a flowing sense of grace that makes the music both intimate and friendly. This is a CD to spend quality time with as if it were a good friend who dropped by to say "Hello" and share a cup of coffee. Recommended.
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