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Music Review: Michelle LaCourse, Martin Amlin – Chocolates, Torch Songs For Viola and Piano

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It seems more than a little appropriate at this festive time of over indulgence to review an album inspired by that wonderful confectionery invention, chocolate. When, after the holiday season is over, our belts no longer fit we can sit back and spread out in our expanding comfort and re-live each mouth watering delight by playing this CD.

With tracks entitled “Bittersweet”, “Triple Mocha Indulgence”, and a two piece movement entitled “Truffles” we can happily finish off the last remnants before setting out on our New Year resolution to lose weight once again.

Even the cover seduces the taste buds. Enticing close up shots of various chocolates lure you in. Inside the heading makes the album’s inspiration abundantly clear. “It all began with chocolate” it says.

This beautiful work, Chocolates, Torch Songs For Viola and Piano (MS 1335) is a collection of wonderful creations from the pen of renowned American composer James Grant. Luxuriously performed by violist Michelle LaCourse, and pianist Martin Amlin, each track will, like your favourite chocolates, delight, seduce, and ultimately satisfy.

The music of James Grant is described in the notes as “fresh and eclectic, exploring a wide variety of harmonic and formal approaches to everything from solo instrumental pieces to major works for symphony orchestra and chorus.”

It goes on to explain that violists “have a true fan in James Grant, whose appreciation for the dark, moody, and rich sounds of the instrument has led him to score an impressive number of pieces for viola.”

Who better than Michelle LaCourse to add her own “miraculous blend of intense passion and artistic elegance” to the work? Renowned pianist Martin Amlin, from Boston University, adds his own elegant style to the whole, resulting in a multi-flavoured, performance of rich intensity. It is without doubt one of the most seductive collections I have heard in a long time.

The box of chocolates simile is too good to ignore. Each piece has its own rich flavour, delicate texture, and individual identity. However, unlike the ones you are left with after Christmas after all the most popular have disappeared, each selection is gorgeous in its own right and equally delightful.

The album opens with “Chocolates (Torch Songs For Viola And Piano)”. Written in 1998 it comprises three movements, the soothing “Valentine”, “Bittersweet”, and the multi textured “Triple Mocha Indulgence”. These are luxurious, slow jazz torch songs written in the style of the classic, tuneful ballads of American music of the 40s and 50s.

The next piece is the passionate “Waltz For Betz” which arrived the following year. It was written as a musical Valentines Day card and its heartfelt beauty produces one of the albums most exquisite moments. Michelle LaCourse’s viola literally caresses this piece which is again beautifully enhanced by Mr. Amlin’s piano.

Four pieces dating from 2001 entitled “Stuff”, “High Autumn”, “Just A Thought”, and “Endorphins” follow. It was Michelle LaCourse who requested that these compositions, originally written for tuba, were adapted for viola.

The same can be said of the next pairing entitled “Sultry And Eccentric”. “Sultry” appears in the now familiar jazz torch song styling whilst “Eccentric” is everything the title suggests.

This wonderful album ends with “Truffles (More Torch Songs For Viola And Piano).” Written in 2000 it is divided into two more delicious chocolate themes, “Dark Chocolate (sinful)”, and “Hazelnut (delectable)”.

These sub titles say it all and as you reach for the last remaining favourite in the now depleted box you are sure to press replay and relive this superb piece of indulgence once again.

An exquisite work.

To further explore the music of James Grant please visit his official website. For details of this and other available releases please go to MSR Classics website.

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