John Carmichael: Toward the Light — Honest Music-making

I admit I wasn’t at all familiar with John Carmichael’s work before this release crossed my desk. I’m glad it did. “Toward the Light” has a healthy sampling of Carmichael’s catalog. Enough to encourage me to explore further. 

John Carmichael is an Australian pianist and composer, who worked mainly in the UK. A good deal of his works involve the piano. This release includes his second piano concerto. Four of the five chamber works on the release include piano. 

Carmichael writes in an accessible post-Romantic style. The tonal structure of his music is easy to follow — but never cliche. The Piano Concerto No. 2 features Antony Gray, soloist, with the St. Paul’s Sinfonia and Andrew Morely.

The way Gray performs the work suggests it’s a joy to play. The gestures are big, but not overblown. The technique is challenging, but not impossible. And the music itself is engaging and well-crafted. And this is a very good performance. 

Also included is the Piano Trio “Toward the Light.” Here the piano performs in partnership with the violin and cello. And yet it’s a very full part with lots going on. 

The balance is a little better in the Aria for viola and piano. Carmichael writes effectively for the viola. He uses the instrument’s dark tone to write some wonderfully resonant melodies. 

“On the Green” is a work for wind ensemble — no piano. It includes pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns, and bassoons. Plus a contrabassoon. I think it’s a real charmer. Carmichael uses his instruments to create a variety of interesting timbres. The music’s straightforward, almost bordering on light classical.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. “On the Green” has an immediate appeal. It should be a staple with community bands everywhere. I know it hasn’t, but perhaps this recording will help. 

What I found most appealing about Carmichael’s music was its honesty. Carmichael is straightforward in his intent. And the clarity of that intention makes his music appealing (at least to me).  

John Carmichael: Toward the Light
Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Trio “Toward the Light”; Aria for viola & piano; Contrasts
Short Cuts – Divertimento for flute, oboe, clarinet & piano; On the Green
Divine Art ddx 21103

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