MICHAEL EVANS: “Eidola” = The Haunted Palace; Concerto for Piano and Orchestra; Nocturne with Sunrise; Dance – Karolina Rojahn, piano/Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/Vit Micka – Navona Records NV5843 (Distr. by Naxos), 59:35 ***:
Michael J. Evans is an interesting new voice. The Ohio native is a graduate of Kent State University where he studied composition and piano. His first album on Navona, “Bloom”, features some pleasant chamber music for piano, cello and flute. Samplings of that album as well as this new one, “Eidola”, reveal that Mr. Evans’ music is very accessible and very pretty; a guaranteed audience pleaser I should think. Stylistically, this music resides in what the composer’s bio describes as a “post-modern” world with elements of chant, jazz or – in this case – some folk ethnic elements.
The title is from the Greek “Eidola” or ‘phantoms, ghosts’; a very appropriate and clear reference to the first piece on this disc, “The Haunted Palace”. This very Celtic-sounding three movement work is a foray to an imaginary place, perhaps in Ireland, described in the poem of the same name by Edgar Allen Poe. The opening movement sets the tone with its very pretty woodwind melodies and accompanying string work. The “marche funebre” does indeed have a very dark and somewhat funereal sound but the pulsing quarter notes add a somewhat Baroque touch. The closing “valse grotesque” has a very ‘ghostly’ sound to it with its eerie woodwind solos, dissonant violin droning and the chimes pulsing that lead into the main waltz-like finale. The music does seem fit both the Poe text well and does sound “haunted.” This is an attractive work but one that does sound and feel almost like movie music. There are moments of almost cliché “creepiness” and dark humor but it works.
In a similar vein, Evans’ “Dance” from his unfinished ballet, “Deirde”, is chock full of stereotypical Celtic sounds and melodies evocative of traditional Irish folk tune. Evans acknowledges the referencing of an actual folk tune, “Cooley’s Reel”, and the fact that the story of Deirdre is an actual Irish legend involving the character’s betrothal to a harsh king, her love for a younger warrior and a fateful battle, Cooley’s Raid. This little dance sounds like the beginnings of something quite tuneful and entertaining but is almost too brief; at just over two minutes, I wanted to hear more and see where the music would go. I would be interested in the finished ballet.
“Nocturne with Sunrise” contains similar ballade-like wind writing and a very open brass inflected “sun rising” kind of sound. Again after hearing many pieces that evoke the breaking dawn, Evans’ work does the same, but effectively. The work begins with a solo piano playing the nocturne melody, echoed by viola and cello. The melody is developed as it bounces around quite beautifully among strings and winds until the brass section (as the sunrise, it seems) interrupts and plays upon the total fabric. The net effect is simple but quite pleasant.
Evans‘ “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra” is played nicely here by soloist Karolina Rojahn. This work too contains a great deal of what seems to be the composer’s talent and propensity for memorable melody and textures that lie easy on the listener’s ear. The opening allegro contains some sweeping moments and – I felt – some more pastoral or Celtic feel to it. The central andante is a very pleasant rhapsody like foray into sounds that are reminiscent of Rachmaninov in places or maybe the concertos of John Field with the rolling arpeggios and lush orchestration. The concerto closes with a nice somewhat jaunty allegro influenced a bit by Latin music. I found this, too, to be a very pleasant, direct and uncomplicated work.
This collection of Michael Evans’ music is a nice introduction to his music. The Moravian Philharmonic under Vit Micka performs quite well and again demonstrates their commitment to new American music (Thanks to Navona as well for their dedication to new and lesser known promising composers). The one observation I had about Mr. Evans’ music, from this sampling, is that I wonder aloud what genre or “market” he is trying to make an impact on. His music might be an uneasy fit into what has become the symphony orchestra “new music” scene, whether for lack of definable genre or any of the other intangibles that can affect the programming decisions that occur. I do think Michael Evans is a talented new voice but one whose music – from what I can tell from just this sampling – might serve well and naturally in the world of film or television scoring. That is a compliment to his particular skill set as well as a suggestion.
— Daniel Coombs
Live from Salzburg = WAGNER, MAHLER: Lieder – Elina Garanca/ Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/ Christian Thielemann – DGG
Two live concerts… the spirit for music-making, rising above the rigor of Covid…