Album: Piano Portraits
Artist: Rick Wakeman
2017 UMC
CD: 5723627

Rick Wakeman: Steinway Model D concert grand piano

Produced by Wakeman
Engineered & mixed by Erik Jordan
Mastered by Dick Beetham
Design: Stylorouge
Photo: Rob O'Connor

1. "Help!" [John Lennon/Paul McCartney] (3:56)
2. "Stairway to Heaven" [Robert Plant/Jimmy Page] 6:13)
3. "Life on Mars" [David Bowie] (3:23)
4. "I'm Not in Love" [Eric Stewart/Graham Gouldman] (3:10)
5. "Wonderous Stories" [Jon Anderson] (4:24)
6. "Berceuse" [Gabriel Fauré, arr. Wakeman] (4:28)
7. "Amazing Grace" [traditional, arr. Wakeman] (3:56)
8. "Swan Lake" [Peter Tchaikovsky, arr. Wakeman] (4:29)
9. "Morning has Broken" [traditional, arr. Wakeman] (3:42)
10. "Summertime" [George Gershwin] (4:07)
11. "Space Oddity" [Bowie] (4:47)
12. "Dance of the Damselflies" [Wakeman] (3:33)
13. "Clair de Lune" [Claude Debussy, arr. Wakeman] (3:06)
14. "I Vow to Thee, My Country" [traditional, arr. Wakeman] (2:57)
15. "Eleanor Rigby" [Lennon/McCartney] (5:05)

Notes: This was billed as Wakeman's 100th solo album (although that depends on how you count), an instrumental piano album of covers, which initially had the working title of The Piano Gallery. It was released 13 Jan 2017 on CD and download; a 2LP followed 3 Feb. Recording was in Jul/Aug 2016. Wakeman had filming in Aug and Sep for TV advertising for the project and a film about the album's recording, including some live performances. Track (1) was available early with digital pre-orders.

In a Jan 2017 interview, Wakeman discussed how the idea for the album arose out of the success of his piano cover of "Life on Mars" to commemorate the death of David Bowie:
I started getting calls from record labels, some big and some not so big, all saying, “Hey, we’d love for you to do a piano album in a similar style to that you did for ‘Life On Mars.'” [...] I spoke to all the labels to see how they’d envisioned it and Universal were great because they envisioned it exactly as I did — as a real mixture of music, not losing sight of what the original songs stood for but always working as piano pieces.

[...] We spent quite a few weeks recording this album. We knew that every piece had to be a performance; you couldn’t just edit stuff. [...] there were some pieces that I thought would work fantastically well that didn’t work so we didn’t include them and gave up on them and other pieces that I felt would never work, worked great — like “Stairway to Heaven.”

The best example of that is I wanted to do “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a little suite but I could not make it work for a way that would make me happy; it just drove me mad. Overall we ditched about six or seven pieces.

The arrangement for (1) was influenced by Deep Purple's 1968 cover and Wakeman has often performed the piece live in solo shows. (5) was suggested by someone at Universal. (5) was one of the two tracks that was presented to Wakeman when he re-joined Yes in 1976.

The album made #7 in the UK (20 Jan 2017), having been at #6 in the midweek chart (16 Jan). This was #4 in physical sales, #6 in total sales (and #6 in Scotland), #11 in downloads, but outside the top 100 in streaming. It was his highest UK chart position since The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1975) peaked at #2 The next week, it made #6 again in the midweek chart (23 Jan) and #6 in the full chart (27 Jan). This was again #4 in physical sales, up to #4 in total sales, again #6 in Scotland, up to #6 in downloads, but still outside the top 100 in streaming. It was down to #8 in week 3 (#67 in downloads, #5 in total sales, #3 in physical sales, #10 in Scotland; 3 Feb). It was #2 in the Progressive album chart in the UK for Jan 2017 and still at #2 in the May chart. The album made Silver in the UK, i.e. 60,000 sales.

Wakeman did a largely sold out 11-date English tour in support from 25 May-6 Jul 2017, with a set including 10 pieces from the album and some additional music. A second leg sees 19 UK dates 23 Oct-27 Nov. (HP, 9 Jul 17)
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