A wonderful album all the way around.
“Portraits: Works for Flute, Clarinet, and Piano” = CHRIS ROGERSON: A Fish Will Rise; VALERIE COLEMAN: Portraits of Langston; GUILLAUME CONNESSON: Techno – Parade; RACHMANINOV (Arr. McHale): Vocalise; PAUL SCHOENFIELD: Sonatina; PHILIP HAMMOND: The Lamentation of Owen O’Neil; IRISH TRADITIONAL (Arr. McHale): The Lark in the Clear Air – Demarre McGill, flute/ Anthony McGill, clarinet; Michael McHale, piano/ Mahershala Ali, narrator – Cedille CDR 90000 172, 66:17 *****:
Don’t be thrown off by the title—this lively and ingratiating disc delivers far more than most would think about a recital of flute, clarinet, and piano pieces. If you don’t know the players, their identities should give you encouragement. As the notes succinctly state, “Demarre McGill, a Chicago native, has served as principal flute of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the Dallas, Seattle, and San Diego Symphony Orchestras. His brother, Anthony McGill, is principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic and former principal of the Met Orchestra. Michael McHale, one of Ireland’s leading pianists, has performed as soloist with the Minnesota, Halle, Moscow, and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestras and all five of Ireland’s major orchestras.” So, the cast of characters is comprised of noted and outstanding artists, and they certainly play that way here. They were formed during a residency at Bowling Green University in 2014, and whomever came up with the idea for a recording should be given five stars for that alone.
The music is flat out terrific—the title of the album refers to Portraits of Langston by Valerie Coleman, a work alternating readings of Hughes with music reflecting the same. It is a wonderful tribute to the poet and an intelligent and tuneful rendering by the composer. Normally I avoid pieces with narrator like the plague, but in this case Coleman has persuaded me to stick around. Of course, the gifted and clear reading of Best Supporting Actor (2017) Mahershala Ali doesn’t hurt at all.
The opening A Fish Will Rise is a sparkling and luminescent piece of energy and color. Techno – Parade is a wild ride of rhythmic propulsion and hints of the techno music world. The dance-based Sonatina of Paul Schoenfield is rich in the traditional polystylistic musings this composer is known for, and will not disappoint. The gorgeous The Lamentation of Owen O’Neil is based on an eighteenth-century air by the harpist and bard Turlough O’Carolan, that speaks of a nationalist Irish hero. The arrangements of Vocalise and The Lark in the Clear Air are lovely, bespeaking the talents of Michael McHale.
The sound is vivid and naturally captured at the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago. Again, don’t be fooled—this is great stuff.