In 1995, Sony Classical issued an album from an immense talent in the person of Geoff Smith. His razor-sharp, minimalist-styled, approach to piano is, in every way, dark, hypnotic, and in the ranks of masters like Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and other brilliant pianists. On his Sony Classical debut, 15 wild decembers, Geoff Smith joined forces with his wife, noted soprano, Nicola Walker Smith, in a themed ensemble of music that swirls around the written works of tragic 19-century poets such as Emily Bronte, Percy Shelley, and John Keats.
15 wild decembers puts together 8 extraordinary tracks with 5 vocal and 3 piano instrumentals. On the vocal tracks, the lyrics have been mined from literary figures, as stated before. But what makes them take on new life is the trained voice of Nicola Walker Smith. She opens the album with “The Last of England,” a tender song of the incoming winter as a metaphor for the onset of hopelessness. It is an emotional beauty of a song that draws its lyrical strength from the sad words of “A Dirge” by Percey Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). It is followed by “Six Wings of Bliss,” which is crafted around fragments from Emily Bronte (1818-1848) works.
“Possess Me’ is where Geoff Smith displays his stunning piano work in singularity. It is a fast moving, 8-minute tune that runs opposite of the album’s usual setting but will have you in awe of his command of the piano. His notes are delivered with a crisp precision and will have you hitting the back button to hear it yet once again. His other piano-only songs include the soft and heartbreaking “The Rainpools Are Happy,” and the gorgeous “To the Old Place.”
“Fifteen Wild Decembers” is the gem of the album. Its piano and Nicola Walker Smith’s vocals is a song will take up residence in your mind. The album closes with the lyrical fragments from Elizabeth Siddal (1833-1862) wrapped within a soft and descriptive “Summer’s Last Will and Testament.”
While the subject matter of 15 wild decembers is complete with the use of metaphors for the individual absence of hope and happiness found in each of the 5 vocal tracks, it is the craft of the songs and this album, the soaring voice of Nicola Walker Smith, and the exemplary piano works of Geoff Smith that make it a classic work of excellence that is mesmerizing. 15 wild decembers is not easily forgettable; 12 years after its release, it still plays on a regular rotation in my immediate collection. It is classic in every way and not to be missed. If you appreciate the best that Philip Glass can do, you’ll be a devoted fan of Geoff Smith.
If you, expectedly, become a fan of Geoff and Nicola Walker Smith’s hauntingly brilliant album (there is another released after this, Black Flowers), there is a rare Austrian sampler disc that showcases – and enhances- 15 wild decembers with “Fifteen Wild Decembers,” “Possess Me,” “Six Wings of Bliss,” as well as the very rare “Six Wings (Blissout)” a remix of “Six Wings of Bliss” that bears tracking down.
I would love to hear this album remastered in DSD and reissued as an SACD.