McLEOD: The Emperor and the Nightingale. 3 Celebrations for Orchestra.
Helen Medlyn (narrator); Eugene Albulescu (piano); New
Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Uwe Grodd.
Naxos 8.572671 TT: 67:35.
BUY NOW FROM AMAZON
Pretty. New Zealander Jenny McLeod studied first with Modernist Douglas
Lilburn and then with Karlheinz Stockhausen. She went through an avant-garde phase. However, she also worked as a pop musician, and this changed her
thinking. She decided that her music should be fun to play and fun to
listen to. There are worse goals.
I recognize her craft. She scores beautifully and has an ability to write
infectious rhythms. I just wish I connected with the pieces more.
I found The Emperor and the Nightingale the most successful item on the
program. Unfortunately, I don't particularly care for the genre of narrator-plus-orchestra.
The voice distracts from the music and vice versa. For me, the most successful
examples usually treat the voice as an instrument -- in other words,
put the voice on an equal footing in the texture, as in Walton's Façade.
Sometimes, the music is so good that I'd have to be a Grinch not to acknowledge
it -- Copland's Lincoln Portrait, for example. McLeod doesn't reach that
level, although the music is delightfully tuneful and beautifully colored.
The New Zealand landscape inspired the 3 Celebrations, which evoke the
country's spectacular mountains, familiar to viewers of the Lord
of the Ring movies, quiet bays, and the A & P (Agricultural & Pastoral)
fairs. The sense of vast space all around overwhelms you in the first
two celebrations. The third is nice, but it seemed too derivative. It
a strong resemblance to Elmer Bernstein's score for The Magnificent
Seven from which it never breaks free.
I've always wondered why concert composers have mostly avoided rock as
an inspiration. It seems to me they've missed a source of terrific energy.
Considering her background, I held high hopes for McLeod's piano concerto.
The concerto disappointed me. First, I think she's been listening to
the wrong radio stations and collecting the wrong albums. Except for
blue note, nothing in this concerto reminds me in the least of, say,
Booker T. and the MGs, the Five Royales, Motown soul, or, at a lesser
Rolling Stones. The rhythm is wrong. The melodic vocabulary is wrong.
Nevertheless, despite its failure to meet my expectations (given the
title), does it succeed anyway? Not really. It really comes across as
McLeod points out that the first two movements follow sonata form --
with first and second subject groups, development, and recap -- and I'm
an examination of the score would bear her out. However, her themes lack
sufficient contrast for a listener to apprehend these larger groups.
Consequently, most of the concerto comes across as a blob, despite, again,
scoring and exciting piano writing.
Uwe Grodd and his kiwis do well and give the music a fair shake. Eugene
Albulescu, a pianist fond of Liszt, gives you all the flash you could
hope for. Helen Medlyn I didn't particularly care for. She pitched her
to what she may have thought children liked. There was a near-constant "Isn't
this cute?" subtext. To me, most fairy tales deal with themes important
to both children and adults.
A pleasant disc, but not essential.
S.G.S. (December 2011)