October 25, 2019
Musical Images for Chamber Orchestra:
Reflections & Recollections, volume 1
Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra/Anthony Armore
Navona Records 6247
Disc One: Total Time: 34:40
Disc Two: Total Time: 44:04
Mark J. Saliba has orchestrated this collection of Mark John McEncroe’s piano music for this two-disc volume of music now cast for chamber orchestra. The Janacek Philharmonic has recorded a great deal of McEncroe’s orchestral music already under conductor Anthony Armore. The music often is connected to the composer’s own personal struggles. Often the music has a Bax-like quality with a touch of Satie and impressionism. Many of the works in this collection can be heard in their piano versions on Navona 6144.
Disc one begins with a gentle waltz, “Introspective Moments” which introduces us to this semi-Satie-like style now in a broader palette. This continues into the next few tracks here (“Ripples on Still Water”, “The Calling”, “The Pendulum”, and the slightly darker “The Gargoyle’s Fountain which is somewhat more interesting). We move through these moods that are part of McEnroe’s more personal journey that then takes us through “Ghosts of the Past” until we are “Dancing in the Light.” The second disc continues some of this narrative direction with pieces that feature some slight jazz inflections (“A Fish with the Blues”, “Lazy Summer’s Afternoon”) which adds some variety to the pieces here which tend to be quite similar from one to the next. Everything comes to a slightly restrained conclusion as we move into a more minor tonality for “Shadows of an Old Memory.
As has been noted in previous overviews of his music, McEncroe’s lines and melodies tend to spin in a meandering way picking up energy or transferring across the orchestra with subtle color shades. The pieces feel often like a stream-of-conscious style that stays close to its picturesque intent. Harmonic writing is also simple. He likes to take a small phrase and then repeat this, often verbatim, finding moments to recall what has happened before. This gives the music a formless feel from time to time. This is not music that makes demands on the listener, apart from the sometimes repetitive writing, and is intended to invite one along on a musical walk through which ever natural or emotional landscape McEncroe wishes to explore. These then tend to be a collection of minor symphonic poems which can tend to blur into one larger New Age-like crossover experience.