By Clinton White – Canberra Critics Circle
Self-taught Australian composer, Alan Griffiths, can rightly be proud of the debut album of his music. And he can be proud on two counts: first that the Ukrainian-Australian pianist, Evgeny Ukhanov, has done a very nice job of interpreting the music and, second that the music is very accessible and perfectly suited to the album title, Introspection.
So an album with more of its heart in the history of classical music than the title might suggest, and – given just how many ambient albums are out there these days – the better for it.
he composition styles vary quite remarkably through the programme. There are new age styles, pieces that could be for a film soundtrack, others that evoke piano studies and still others that can calm the soul or lead the listener into a flight of fantasy.
Then there are the influences. Griffiths’ bio notes acknowledge that many great composers over the last 150 years have been his guide. Still, Griffiths really has developed his own style. There are the occasional hints of the influences, but he can be confident in calling all of his compositions uniquely his own. Even the quite strong Rachmaninov stylings in the “Motif and Variations” serve more to underscore the writing than dominate it.
Whilst, on the whole, the works are not overly technically difficult, Ukhanov has taken them and put a great deal of soul into them, turning the notes on the page into truly beautiful and sensitive musical interpretations cleverly nuanced with a tiny tenuto here, a subtle ritardando there, or perhaps a delicate accelerando somewhere else, just to give the music his personal touch and add that extra little bit of personality.
The titles of the works are largely descriptive of their technical nature rather than of the story behind them or their source of inspiration. There would be some value in giving the titles a little more personality, even if it’s just by way of nicknames, to add to the charm of the music they produce.
If I had one tiny gripe, it is the closeness of the recording. A close listening (I reviewed the album using a pair of Sennheiser HD 600 headphones) will reveal a subtle thud of the keys hitting the strings particularly in the upper registers. I would have preferred a slightly more expansive sound to give a better spread and balance across the instrument. It’s almost as if the piano is “bottled up”, unable to escape.
But others will appreciate the very clearly defined registers of the piano, which, in fact, are nicely and faithfully captured in the recording process.
The presentation of the album is nicely done, with good liner notes about the composer and the artist as well as the “personality” behind the works.
On hearing the first few bars of music on Introspection, the listener might be tempted to think it is one of those albums you can put on and then drift off. But it’s not long before the listener becomes aware of music and playing that demands just that: listening.