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James GRANT (b.1954)
Chocolates (Torch Songs for Viola and Piano): Valentine [5:49], Bittersweet [4:53], Triple Mocha Indulgence [6:28]
Waltz for Betz [5:00]
Stuff [5:55]
High Autumn [4:19]
Just a Thought [3:52]
Endorphins [4:30]
Sultry and Eccentric [9:04]
Truffles (More Torch Songs for Viola and Piano): Dark Chocolate [4:09], Hazelnut [6:42]
Michelle LaCourse (viola); Martin Amlin (piano)
rec. August 2007, College of Fine Arts Concert Hall, Boston University
MSR CLASSICS MS1335 [60:47]

Experience Classicsonline

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.

Oleg Ledeniov



















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