Once I went to a restaurant where everything on the menu was made of chocolate. They had chocolate soup, chocolate steak, chocolate fruit and innumerable chocolate desserts. After this, as you can imagine, I could hardly look at chocolate for quite a long time. But is chocolate a bad thing? Of course not, just don't take too much of it at once.
This album delivers what its cover promises: a box of chocolates. All with different fillings, alike and yet different - just as with real chocolates in an assorted box. Each one is delicious, but maybe it would not be the best idea to devour the entire box straight away: your stomach may hurt.
The dark, velvety voice of the viola is perfect for these
songs. No violin, no cello, no clarinet could do it so well.
The artistry of Michelle LaCourse is the key here: James
Grant is really lucky to have such a sensitive and devoted
presenter for his compositions. Honestly, I did not imagine
that a viola could be so rich, stylish and versatile. Martin
Amlin, on piano, provides excellent foils, resonant and swingy,
but still the viola is the main singer in this duo. You know
these "'Round Midnight" collections of slow jazz
music? I wonder why viola didn't become one of the important
jazz instruments, like clarinet or guitar? Maybe it's because
not many violists can swing it like Michelle LaCourse?
The album starts with three Chocolates and ends with two Truffles -
torch songs in the old American tradition. Luscious melodies,
soft harmonies, "midnight jazz" twists may remind
you of Gershwin in a quiet mood. Maybe it is good that these
five bittersweet pieces do not go in one block, or it could
end as my visit to the chocolate restaurant. In between,
we have a wonderful Waltz for Betz, four recital pieces that form a mini-cycle, and another chocolate duo Sultry and Eccentric, where the name says it all. I must note that the titles of all pieces are very telling. Stuff is a nice set of variations, starting with a lullaby and reaching as far as swing and cartoon music. High Autumn is serene and philosophical; I wouldn't mind it being longer. Just a Thought is probably too sweet, but Endorphins are interesting, tying together threads from other pieces. All in all, this is good old-fashioned music, very tonal and often predictable, yet pleasant.
The recording quality is excellent. The design of the cover and the booklet has good taste and style. This could be a great present. Even for yourself. Chocolate is the molecule of happiness, you know.
Itís good advice though: don't take too much of it at once.