The Piano is one of the world’s most beautiful instruments, provided it is played by a virtuoso. It is fair to say that Benny Andersson fits that description as his musical prowess is legendary, well beyond the limitations of Abba. This is also the first time that I think I have been so drawn to a solo piano performance. Sometimes they can be shrill and fail to portray that intended emotion of the composer and the musician. Where Andersson’s Piano differs, however, is that the songs played are composed either solely by Andersson or in conjunction with other exceptional composers. Subsequently, what you get here is a life’s work, reworked for the piano, and it is nothing short of spectacular.
For the purposes of this review, I will be listening to both the TIDAL Masters (MQA) edition of Piano as well as the Apple Music (Mastered for iTunes) release. Both are exceptional with the TIDAL Master’s edition bringing Andersson and his piano into the room in a more realistic, and less concealed, manner than the Apple Music counterpart. Ideally, as a fan of Andersson’s work, I’d like to have a copy on vinyl but, I feel compelled to write this review sooner, rather than later, as I can’t seem to stop playing the album. Yes, Piano is addictive and the vinyl release is on my wish list. Some may find, as I do, that this album is most captivating when sitting and listening intently, as the performance will bring you to tears. Others, however, may find that applying it as background music to a romantic dinner may be the ideal situation and while a dinner with the family, kids included, is far from ideal, I can attest to the relaxing nature of the album in the background as one shares their time, a good meal, and conversation with significant others. As good as that experience is, however, this is one album that really demands the attention of the listener for you will inevitably have a much more fulfilled experience should you take the time to appreciate the music in the manner in which Andersson intended you to.
I Let The Music Speak is beautiful. While I love the original from Abba’s The Visitors, this rendition is incredible in that it is familiar yet completely unique. It amazes me just how diverse a single composition can be.
You And I takes you on a magical ride whereby if you let it, the music will elevate your soul and take you to that very special place within your consciousness that only you know about. Music like this is the epitome of subjectivity and is incredibly relaxing. The playing and tuning of the piano on You And I simply blows my mind and is without a doubt one of the best songs on the album.
Aldrig is a lovely song, but I feel it is tracked badly as it is musically different to You And I and doesn’t really fit in with Thank You For The Music. That said, having listened to the album numerous times, I’m unsure of where it would have been better placed. It reminds me of my love/hate relationship with soundtracks as depending on how they are presented, they can either be magnificent or an incongruent selection of songs.
Thank You For The Music is legendary, but this track in particular sounds as though it could have been played in any piano bar around the world. It isn’t the performance, but the initial composition. Plus, subjectively, I’ve never been a major fan of the Abba song as I find it is a little campy; a shame really considering that I adore The Album.
Stockholm By Night is a beautiful song.
Chess is a modern-day masterpiece. Astonishing! How can music be this good?
The Day Before You Came was an interesting choice from Abba’s catalogue and is perfectly suited to the solo nature of Andersson and his piano, but it likely wouldn’t have been a song I would have selected for this album. The performance is flawless, and the recording is captured immaculately, as it is on the entire album. The soundstage on this particular song is very special and has to be heard to be believed as the piano fills the room and captivates you from the very first note to the last.
Someone Else’s Story is another beautiful selection from Chess. This album just keeps getting better and better.
Midnattsdans is a lovely interpretation from BAO!, the second album from the Benny Anderssons Orkester.
Målarskolan is brilliant with its slightly faster tempo when compared to the other songs on the album.
I Wonder (Departure) is magnificent, both the original Abba recording and this interpretation. Although, I’d go as far as saying this rendition greatly improves on the masterpiece that was already present on The Album.
Embassy Lament is, for lack of a better term, a B-Side. It’s enjoyable but isn’t to the same standard as the rest of the songs on Piano.
Anthem is lovely!
My Love, My Life is one of my all-time favourite Abba songs, from my all-time favourite Abba album Arrival. This rendition only enhances my feelings about this song. Absolutely spectacular!
Mountain Duet is quite an interesting composition. It sounds fully developed, yet it also feels incomplete. I know that makes no sense, but there are multiple ways one could appreciate this song and despite having heard it many times, I’m not really sure how, or if, I connect with Mountain Duet.
Flickornas Rum is a great tune that I thoroughly enjoy.
Efter Regnet has me closing my eyes as I picture Andersson playing a private performance for me, and only me. The recording is that transparent that you too will experience that feeling.
Tröstevisa is an absolutely beautiful song.
En Skrift I Snön is, as Tröstevisa is, a beautiful song.
Happy New Year was a lovely song when released by Abba on Super Trouper, but I much prefer this rendition to the original.
I Gott Bevar is the perfect song to close the album on. It’s absolutely magical and encourages me to listen to the entire album again and stay within Andersson’s extensive body of work.
Overall, Piano is one of the greatest pieces of music Andersson has ever released and deserves a place in everyone’s collection.
Update April 15, 2019
While I had considered picking up Piano on vinyl, I came across an incredible deal, for the CD, at one of my local music stores that I simply couldn’t pass up.
The CD release is presented in a foldout digipak, not unlike a vinyl gatefold, but instead of having incredibly tight slits at the spine end of the packaging for the booklet and CD to be slid into, it has pockets where the CD and the associated liner notes sit beautifully.
The only concern I have is the dust factor. No, my house is not a dusty mess. Vinyl collectors know just how diligent we must be and even though the CD format is more robust in that regard, dust can still be transferred from the CD to the laser and cause additional reading errors, resulting in the need for more error correction, thereby reducing the purity of the sound. Dust also has the ability to clog the internals of a CD player thereby, gradually over time, reducing the life expectancy and performance. If care is taken, however, this shouldn’t be an issue and in many respects, I welcome this type of design as I truly dislike the scratching that a CD receives when sliding it into the tight slits of a cardboard digipak.
All that aside, the liner notes are beautifully presented with photographs from Andersson’s history as a young accordion playing boy, to a live performance with his pop band the Hep Stars, and of course Abba. That isn’t all, however, as there are photographs depicting his work with the London Symphony Orchestra as they were presenting Chess in 1984 and the Benny Anderssons Orkester (BAO!) amongst many others. While brief, this visual walkthrough of some of the most pivotal moments in Andersson’s life is a beautiful collection for any fan to have. In many respects, Andersson said it best in his liner notes submission when he inferred that Piano represents a memoir of his life.
Piano is certainly a memoir, but it is much more than that and as I suggested in my original review, Piano really is one of Andersson’s greatest releases and I’ll now go one step further and proclaim it as his greatest release of all-time. Nothing comes close!
The CD itself is simple and elegant, from a design standpoint, and the sonic quality is beyond reproach. Yes, I was impressed with the MQA stream, in my initial review, but the CD is equal to the task and sounds a little less treble focused when compared to the MQA counterpart. That may deter some listeners, but there really is no wrong way to appreciate Piano. Ultimately, it comes down to your own subjective tastes and stereo setup as to deciding which is the best version for you. For me, it is the 16/44.1kHz CD release.
The CD release of Piano that I’m fortunate enough to own is the Australian Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music release (Cat: 479 8143).