by Bill Binkelman 
Wind and  

Sharon Fendrich's newest release, Sapphire Oak, is a stunningly imaginative, beautifully executed, and  thoroughly beguiling thematic "concept" album that merges the neo-classical genre with both Celtic and new age music influences, yielding a transportive listening experience. Fendrich, who composed, arranged, and produced the album has crafted a work that expresses deep-rooted emotion while also pleasing the ear at every twist and turn with flowing melodies that seem both fresh but also as old as the land of Eire itself. In addition to her usual great piano playing, Fendrich also contributes vocals on two tracks and her gentle yet dramatic and engaging voice adds an element of humanity and emotion the recording, furthering the impact of the listening experience. Of note, her daughter, Talia, also lends her voice on a track.  

Sapphire Oak is borne from the artist's deep affinity for trees, especially the oak. Fendrich did exhaustive research on the history of the oak and its place in human culture through the eons. As she herself states "It became a life changing experience for me as I came to be so taken by the endless references throughout history of the oak. It was amazing how many stories, cross-culturally, were similar." The orchestral passages were performed by the Symphonica Recording Orchestra in Slovakia and their contributions brings great emotional depth and breadth to the music, while the Celtic influences are sprinkled liberally among the eleven tracks and are in no small part because of the amazing talent of contributing musician Ian Harper on Irish flute, whistle and Uillean pipes. 

Motif variety courses through Sapphire Oak, as some songs burst with drama and power, while others weave a subdued beauty of gentleness and serenity. The listeners may find themselves mesmerized by haunting, pensive melodies or swept up in the passion of full classical string section passages and dramatic orchestral crescendos. Through it all, Fendrich's artistic vision guides the listener through timeless legends, the power of myth, and the strength and vitality of the mighty oak. Sapphire Oak is a landmark recording and surely elevates Sharon Fendrich's status as a visionary artist of the highest magnitude.