Stefano Bollani has always been a pianist that I’ve admired — and his album Variations on Jesus Christ Superstar does not disappoint. The album, released in 2020, is a musical tour-de-force that turns Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1970s rock musical into a magical album full of youth and charm.
Creativity is clearly evident in the album — it weaves together classical, hymnal, (seemingly) Japanese, and jazz elements to form a distinct timbre of its own.
Some tracks are made for easy listening. But the opening track, Prelude, is not. It is mysteriously pared-down and full of warmth, love, and charm. I can picture Bollani poignantly recalling his childhood memories as he plays in a dimly-lit room.
Heaven on Their Minds, contrastingly, is a stride-piano, jazzy piece that never seems to take a breath. It starts off with a low-pitched, ostinating, deadpan romp, intensifying the atmosphere. Soon after, the right hand joins in the fun, until the tension reaches its tipping point. Dissonant chords clash like cymbals, and the right-hand trills like an enraged castanet. What’s interesting, though, is how the emotional roller coaster twists and turns — especially when, when least expected, the track escapes from the musical chaos and plunges into a blissful, soothing passage of jazz chords. Aesthetical choices like these are remarkable — we need more from Bollani and composers around the world.
While Heaven on Their Minds is emotionally laden, This Jesus Must Die is more light-hearted — featuring dazzling technique and an enormously entertaining and impossibly irresistible melody. Also notable are Everything’s Alright — a soft, rather saccharine track that sounds like airport lounge music (but more refined and therefore better) — and “What’s the Buzz?”, the most spirited, jazzy, and energetic track of all.
Need I praise this album further? Listen, discover, and fill your ears with this wonderful music.
Featured image by Valentina Cenni.