Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Napa Valley Duo: “A Soft Message To You” (2016) CD Review

After thoroughly enjoying the new album from the Napa Valley Duo, An American In Paris, I went back to listen to the duo’s previous release, A Soft Message To You. While they cover more modern material on their new release (including the Star Trek theme and a song from The Who), here they deliver mostly classical pieces, including music by Debussy and Chopin. There are also two original compositions, both of which the duo revisit on the new album.

This album opens with one of those original pieces, the title track, “A Soft Message To You,” written by cellist Jeffrey McFarland-Johnson. This is a pretty, emotionally engaging piece with a sound that is gentle, even soothing at times. I love the sound of a cello, and that instrument is the focus of this piece, with Terry Winn’s piano supporting it. As with the Napa Valley Duo’s new album, this one contains one Gershwin composition. I can never get enough Gershwin, and on this disc they perform “Sleepless Night.” This version is wonderful. I particularly like the way the cello seems to speak to us as clearly as any voice could. You can almost feel both instruments reaching out to you.

“Sleepless Night” is followed by another of my favorite tracks, a beautiful rendition of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” Terry Winn begins this one on piano, using a gentle touch at first. This track is so moving and gorgeous. The Napa Valley Duo performs several other pieces written by Claude Debussy on this album, including “Beau Soir” and “Romance,” the two separated on this album by a one-minute piano piece titled “Intermission,” arranged by Terry Winn. My favorite of the Debussy tracks is “Nuit d’ Etoiles.” It has the feel of a fairy tale, particularly because of that piano part right at the beginning. It reminds me of the ending to the film version of The Hotel New Hampshire, which had a decidedly fairy tale vibe about it. This track lifts us up into the air, seemingly making all troubles and cares fade below. I love this piece. They also deliver an engaging version of Debussy’s “Page d’Album.”

They also do a couple of pieces from Chopin, both of which were written for solo piano. The first is “Etude Op. 10 No. 3,” and the two instruments work together from the start. It is a fairly short version, but is powerful and might bring a tear to your eye. The second is “Etude Op. 10 No. 6,” which is also short and compelling, and should affect you provided you are not built of stone.

“Chimera” is the album’s other original composition, written by Jeffrey McFarand-Johnson. I’ve listened to this piece several times now, both this version and the version on the duo’s new CD, but it feels like it’s been in my life longer. There is something familiar about it, something that connects to my past as well as present. It features some really nice work on cello. Another of the disc’s highlights is the duo’s absolutely beautiful rendition of Maria Theresia von Paradis’ “Sicilienne.”

CD Track List
  1. A Soft Message To You
  2. Zion’s Walls
  3. Quiet Now
  4. Prelude – Sleepless Night
  5. Clair de Lune
  6. Etude Op. 10 No. 3
  7. Beau Soir
  8. Intermission
  9. Romance
  10. Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore
  11. Pagliacci –Canino’s Lament
  12. Chimera
  13. Etude Op. 10 No. 6
  14. Nuit d’ Etoiles
  15. Vocalise
  16. Page d’ Album
  17. Vocalise
  18. Sicilienne
  19. Valse Triste
  20. A Tender Time
A Soft Message To You was released on May 2, 2016.

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