March 16, 2018

  • Satie-esque Collection of Musical Impressions

     Musical Images for Piano

    Yoko Hagino, piano.
    Navona Records 6144
    Disc One: Total Time: 72:57
    Disc One: Total Time: 61:33
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Last year, Navona released an orchestral album featuring a large-scale piano and orchestra work by Australian composer Mark John McEncroe.  This new release is a massive two-disc set of his piano works of Reflections and Recollections.  Helen Kennedy recorded these previously and the first set has also been recorded by John Martin.  This is a new release for Parma featuring pianist Yoko Hagino.

    The titles are essentially launching points for the listener who is invited to let the music stir their own imagination and images.  The collection plays like a modern impressionist set featuring nice melodic content and traditional harmony which, in one way, sort of answers the question, “What if Satie wrote a couple hours of Gymnopedie?”  Here, it results in a couple of hours of relaxing, unobtrusive piano music.

    Disc one begins with a gentle waltz, “Introspective Moments”—a style that continues in the following in the next few works.  Occassionally, the harmony will move to more open sounds a la Satie (especially apparent in tracks such as “The Pendulum” or “Shades of Autumn”).  These are mostly bright sounding works.  “The Gargoyle’s Fountain” takes on a slightly darker tone and moves in a few unusual directions.  Arpeggiated ideas form the basis of the harmonic and forward motion as slight motifs are interchanged with longer themes in each of these delicate works for piano.  The texture tends to be fairly sparse with the left hand lines providing chordal outlines while a simple right-hand line floats above them.  The effect over time is rather mesmerizing in its own way as each gentle melody wafts across the soundscape.  There is not much suggestion of minor mode directions until the final track, “Shadows of an Old Memory.”  Sometimes more jazz-like inflections will appear as in the final bars of “A Fish With the Blues” or more pronounced in “A Lazy Summer’s Afternoon” or “Daybreak” which opens the second disc.  A few more personal connections occur in the salon-like “Cyndy’s Song” and later in “Natalie’s Theme”.  The latter appeared on McEncroe’s earlier Navona release as well.  The second disc continues along a very similar trajectory across eleven brief brushstrokes with mostly diatonic ideas and a slight bit of chromaticism here and there, though nothing too alarming.  Tempo has a slight give and take in these little pieces and this results in a wistful jazzy vibe from time to time.  McEncroe’s music though tends to shy away from too much dissonance, even when things become slightly more intricate in selections like the darker minor-mode “Penny For Your Thoughts”.  The pace picks up slightly in the more classical-like “Dance of the Pagans”, and also begins to expand harmonically with slightly unexpected directions and chromaticism as the disc moves into “Fleeting Images.”  The music in this last portion thus turns toward more dark reflections, however slight, and the music begins to feel more introspective than before.

    This particular release hovers in that New Age crossover realm of classically-shaped works whose utter simplicity tends to invite a more relaxed background listening in these mostly unassuming pieces.  There does not seem to be any larger overarching concepts here to this 24-movement set in terms of tonality or key relationships.  Many feel like they hover within the same key.  Harmonies tend to be mostly tertiary with a few moments when these might open up to a fourth.  There is not much extended harmonic language or even a sense of virtuosic exploration of the piano either as the music tends to stay fairly central in the keyboard.  The music becomes a sort of backdrop to whatever relaxed activity one might be involved with while listening.  The recording itself offers a rich piano sound and Hagino’s performances are often quite moving.