by Walter Simmons
SECOND CHILDHOOD • Matthew McCright (pn) • INNOVA 739 (56:47)
STARK Five Preludes. HUTTER Evening Air. BROBERG Constellations. HALLE Lullaby. Second Childhood. NASS Dance Preludes. CAVIANI Jazz Etudes
Matthew McCright is an American pianist who graduated from Westminster College, the Conservatory at the University of Cincinnati, and the University of Minnesota, where he earned his doctoral degree. Currently on the faculty of Minnesota’s Carleton College, he has fashioned a career that revolves around the performance of music by living composers, which he has played throughout the country (although I’d suggest he keep his day job). This recording is the result of a concept devised by McCright to create a program of music written for him by composer-friends. Each piece was intended to evoke some aspect of the pianist’s youth—hence, the title of the disc, which he took from one of the pieces by John Halle.
Most of the music on the program draws upon or veers close to vernacular styles, ragtime in particular, so that one’s receptiveness to this style in its more domesticated distillations will probably influence the degree of appeal it holds for the listener. Rags are contributed by Gregory Hutter, John Halle, and Daniel Nass. Hutter’s is especially touching, as it captures the poignant undercurrent that makes ragtime more than a one-dimensional form, without diverging far from its conventional roots. There are tangos, waltzes, and other familiar dance styles as well. Daniel Nass’s offerings seemed a little too close to the essential templates to be interesting, although there are occasionally surprising harmonic twists. Halle’s Lullaby is pleasantly insinuating, but the more ambitious Second Childhood, the symbolic and eponymous centerpiece of the whole program, is somewhat more fully evolved, displaying some delightfully clever rhythmic felicities.
I found Bruce Stark’s Five Preludes among the most appealing offerings on the disc. Descended from the long tradition of piano preludes, his contributions draw largely upon impressionistic harmony, and are improvisatory in character, with some reminiscence of jazz pianist Bill Evans. I found No. 5 especially impressive.
Kirsten Broberg’s Constellations touch upon McCright’s interest in astronomy, and is probably the one offering that has virtually no vernacular reference. Her piece, which is a little over-extended, nevertheless produces some mysterious and alluring harmonic sonorities, along the lines of later Scriabin.
Laura Caviani’s Jazz Etudes comprise a blues, a tango, and a boogie-woogie. They are a little too close to their vernacular roots for my taste.
Every piece is played with a great deal of gusto as well as finesse. Readers who are attracted by the concept are likely to find the disc a pleasant experience.