Classical albums review: Michael McHale Alex Petcu

RTÉ Lyric FM label
Classical albums review: Michael McHale Alex Petcu

Michael McHale: Irish Piano Concertos

Following his debut recording of solo pieces, Belfast pianist Michael McHale continues to explore Ireland’s piano heritage in his first concerto recording with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra under Courtney Lewis.

The programme couples a work by a 19th century international star with a 21st century work written especially for McHale. Dublin born, John Field was famous throughout Europe and Russia and credited with devising the atmospheric Nocturne. Here McHale fills the gap in Field’s two movement Piano Concerto No 3 in E flat major with his own orchestral arrangement of the C minor Nocturne.

It works beautifully as a dreamy interlude between two sparkling allegro movements. McHale championed Belfast composer Philip Hammond’s work in his last recording, Miniatures and Modulations. Here, Hammond’s Piano Concerto, scored for standard symphony orchestra, opens with a sequence of emphatic bluesy chords leading to a work of menacing intensity and dramatic contrasts with retro film noir feel to it. McHale gives a wonderfully vivid account of this exciting work and the RTÉ NSO do justice to the lush orchestration with hints of Ravel and Stravinsky.

Alex Petcu: In Time

McHale turns up as a guest on a second album released on the RTÉ Lyric fm label, In Time featuring rising star Alex Petcu, right. Any fears that a solo percussion album would be a lot of crash-bang-wallop melted with the dreamy sounds of a Debussy Arabesque played on marimba on the first track.

The programme from the Cork-born musician is a mix of original music for percussion and transcriptions from classical repertoire.

Petcu is joined also by his sister Ioana in several numbers, including a nimble fugue by Cork composer Sam Perkin. Work by Donnacha Dennehy and Steve Reich also features.

It is all very beguiling and even the familiar transcriptions sound other-worldly. Both performers provide their own excellent liner notes for these valuable additions to the national discography.

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