JohnSong Music 2016 / IAC 2018
Intoxicating variations on nocturnal themes to shake off the tiredness and float away past the sunset.
Come the night and you may not notice how wonderful this world is, because slowing down and looking around isn’t easy. It took cellist Jeffrey McFarland-Johnson and piano player Terry Winn many years, until the pair retired from teaching in public school and began performing together, “A Soft Message To You” being the first fruit of their joint efforts… If “efforts” is the right word for the twenty pieces which can provide a perfect accompaniment for one enchanted evening, as the performances gathered here. carefully remove the need for words
While the originally instrumental numbers such as Chopin’s etudes or Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” retain their romantic dynamics but receive fresh shimmer, there’s surprise in the appearances of snippets from “Pagliacci” and “Tosca” in the album’s very heart – and delight in recognizing those expressive opera gems that are distilled to a pure melodic essence. From spiritual uplift of Aaron Copland’s “Zion’s Walls” where ivories flutter elegantly, even though they’re anchored in lower register by the strings, and “Sleepless Night” whose leaps allude to Gershwin’s jazz, to the exploration of more abstract beauty with Messiaen’s “Vocalise” – as a contrast to the more tremulous, if epic, Rachmaninoff’s which is also here, the duo try and find previously hidden facets to each motif.
As a result, Maria Theresia von Paradis’ “Sicilienne” – the earliest opus on display – is made contemporary without losing its lyricism, whereas Reinhold Glière’s “Valse Triste” must be the least expected cut on this record, a token of the little ensemble’s expertise and reach of their influences. Providing context alongside these classics, McFarland-Johnson’s own tunes – the vigorous “Chimera” and the solemnly dark title track – don’t feel pale at all so, with more personal missives, the artists’ next message should turn out rather riveting.