Monthly Archives: November 2012

Michael McHale – The Irish Piano

Can you tell us more about your first solo CD “The Irish Piano” ? 
This is a project that I’ve wanted to do for a number of years, so I’m delighted that it has finally come to fruition! When I gave my Wigmore Hall début recital in 2010 I performed my own arrangement of ‘My Lagan Love’ as an encore. A member of the audience, Stephen Johns (who had just left his position as Vice President of A&R for EMI Classics) wrote me a note afterwards asking me if I had recorded my arrangements, and suggested that if not, it would be a great idea to do so. So I figured if a record executive thinks I should record something, then it might not be a bad idea! The recording took place in July 2012 for the RTÉ lyric fm label in Ireland).
I thought it would be interesting to take the listener on a journey through Ireland’s musical heritage, with particular reference to the piano, hence the title “The Irish Piano”.
So as well as my own arrangements, there are works by Irish composers from John Field through to Bill Whelan and Donnacha Dennehy, as well as some pieces by other composers who were strongly influenced by Ireland and its culture, such as Samuel Barber and Arnold Bax (photo credit below – Leon Gerald)
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How long did The Irish Piano take to produce and do you have highlights?
The recording session was scheduled to last two and a half days, but we worked very hard and got it all completed ahead of time! The location was a beautiful church in Drogheda, Ireland which has the most fabulous acoustic for recording, and I knew the space well as I had previously made two albums there. A highlight for me was listening back for the first time once the balance and set-up had been fine-tuned, and feeling really comfortable with how everything sounded – it gave me complete confidence to then play naturally and with total freedom, knowing that everything I played would be captured so effectively.
Can you tell us a bit about the music recorded on it? Why choose to play works by those composers?
I was really keen to show how much wonderful piano music has been written by Irish composers, first and foremost.
John Field’s nocturnes are probably the most famous of the repertoire featured, and I have included my two favourites, No.4 in A major and No.10 in E minor. A lesser-known contemporary of Field, William Vincent Wallace, is probably best known for his opera Maritana, but he also wrote some great showpieces for piano, so I’ve included his Mazurka-Etudeand a ‘fantaisie de salon’, Roslyn Castle.All of the contemporary composers featured on the disc I know well and have worked with in the past – they range from Bill Whelan (of Riverdance fame) to Donnacha Dennehy and Garrett Sholdice, and two composers from my home city of Belfast, Philip Hammond and Ian Wilson. There is such a diversity of approach between all five, and each of the pieces here I think are real gems!The final strand of Irish-influenced composers include Arnold Bax, Samuel Barber and Percy Grainger. Bax’s music in particular I really enjoy playing, and I have previously recorded his Clarinet Sonata (with Michael Collins for Chandos) and Piano Trio (with Ensemble Avalon for RTÉ lyric fm), so I was delighted to be able to include a first ever recording of his youthful Nocturne, which he wrote before becoming a student at the Royal Academy of Music, as well as his Country Tune, which demonstrates the rich harmonic language of his more mature compositional style.
Can you tell us more about your own arrangements of Irish melodies? Why choose those melodies?
I wanted to include a range of different melodies so that each arrangement would feel and sound quite unique.
In The Coulin, I wanted the beautiful diatonic melody to really speak for itself, so I kept things as simple and as pared-down as possible. For My Lagan Love, I explored some slightly richer harmonies, and in She Moved Through the Fair I experimented with a left hand ostinato over which the right hand alternates between statements of the melody and some freer, improvised passages.
The final arrangement is of the oldest known notated Irish melody, Cailín ó cois tSuire Mé (which literally means ‘I am the girl from the banks of the river Suir’). It dates from the sixteenth century, and in England was originally known as Callino Custurame (which is an approximate phonetic pronounciation) and thought to be Italian! At the time it was popular enough to merit a reference in Shakespeare’s Henry V, and William Byrd also made an arrangement for keyboard. It is a very short and simple melody, so I have loosely constructed a series of variations around it.
Future aspirations and plans?
 In terms of recording, I would love to make another solo disc exploring different repertoire – in the meantime, I’m delighted to continue my series of duo recital discs with Michael Collins for Chandos – the third album will be released in early 2013, and we record a fourth in May 2013.
On the concert platform, I’m delighted to give the opening concert of this year’s Belfast Festival at Queen’s with JoAnn Falletta and the Ulster Orchestra performing the Gershwin Concerto (19th October) and I make my North American concerto début with the Minnesota Orchestra (in Minneapolis, 1st & 2nd November) under Courtney Lewis performing Mozart Concerto K.466 in D minor (one of my all-time favourites – and I’m going to play my own cadenzas too which is exciting!).Longer term, I hope I can keep exploring new repertoire and meeting and collaborating with a range of inspiring and talented musicians, and continue to share the results with audiences around the world.
CD Reviews
Norman Lebrecht (chosen as ‘CD of the Week’)
“…’The Irish Piano’ is a scintillating and sometimes whimsical recital that takes John Field as its starting point and spreads out across the whole of the island’s music… McHale strikes just the right tone of contemplative wonderment and mischievous mythology… Fascinating from start to stop…”
Terry Blain: Culture NI
“It’s a triumph of outstandingly alert and sensitive artistry, and should be in every piano lover’s stocking this Christmas.”
Michael Dungan, Sunday Times
“McHale, who penned his own programme notes and includes his own tasteful arrangements of folk songs, is engaging and colourful throughout”
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