Michael J. EVANS (b.1964)
The Haunted Palace (2009) [23:14]
Piano Concerto (2008) [26:43]
Nocturne with Sunrise (1993) [7:34]
Karolina Rojahn (piano)
Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/Vit Micka
rec. Olomouc, Czech Republic, July 2010. DDD
NAVONA RECORDS NV5843 [59:35]
This is the second CD from Navona of the music of American composer Michael J. Evans; the first, released in 2009, was reviewed here.
One immediately apparent issue with this recording is the sound. Usually "Olomouc, Czech Republic" is sufficient indication of a good quality recording, but not on this occasion. The Haunted Palace in particular sounds as if it might have been recorded in Vit Micka's lounge using a couple of old Tandy microphones. In fact, a photo on the 'enhanced' section of the CD of Evans with recording producer Vit Muzik "in the studio" does little to dispel this idea. It is just possible that the effect is deliberate in the final movement, to add to the general otherworldliness, but really the recording sounds under-resourced and over-processed. Quality improves in the Piano Concerto and subsequent pieces, but it never rises above average - there is a feeling of compressed dimensions throughout.
A second issue is that, though Evans's music is not difficult to play, the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, usually a reliable ensemble under old hand Vit Micka, sound frequently under-rehearsed, especially in the string sections.
All of which does no great favours to Evans's music. On the other hand, it is fair to say that these works are at best on the border between art music and easy listening. Those in search of innovation, profundity, complexity or virtuosity have come to the wrong place. Instead there are formulas, predictability and plainness. The simplicity of Evans's music - or the thinness of his orchestration, depending on how one looks at it - is evident from the swathes of blank space in the scores, which are available in the 'enhanced' material.
Which is not to say that there is no value in Evans's music - there is no denying that he has a remarkable gift for writing atmospheric music full of easy, attractive melodies that would be ideal for the undemanding mass markets of television and cinema.
There are also glimpses of greater potential. The Haunted Palace, based on the poem of the same name by Edgar Allen Poe, comes to life, as it were, in the final movement, which presumably takes its cue from the last two stanzas of Poe's poem: "But evil things, in robes of sorrow, Assailed the monarch's high estate." Suddenly the cloying sounds of the first two movements have been left behind and the listener is thrust into a phantasmagorical world of half-remembered glories, childhood toys and freaky fairgrounds. The burst of noise from nowhere from the electric guitar right at the end is weird but inspired. And the brief Dance, a taster from Evans's as yet unfinished ballet Deirdre - she of Irish legend fame - is folk-like in its rhythm and appropriated melody, but memorable enough to suggest that the rest of the work may be worth investigation.
For those able to read music who would like a second opinion, Evans has kindly made several of his full scores available to download free from his website, including the Nocturne with Sunrise. The CD-ROM also includes a couple of minute-long videos of the recording sessions, unfortunately with worse sound than the CD. The disc case, which is made of card - the booklet has been digitised and put on the CD-ROM - has a printing error: Polish-born Karolina Rojahn is listed as pianist for The Haunted Palace, rather than the Piano Concerto.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Easy, attractive melodies but there are also glimpses of greater potential.