Catherine Marie Charlton’s pianism blurs the lines that separate nobility and eloquence in music
Catherine Marie Charlton doesn’t let the right hand know what the left hand is doing… but it has the desired polyrhythmic effect all the time and – throughout this repertoire on Simple Gifts – Solo Piano for the Holidays – this has an extraordinarily mesmerising effect. If you are one of those listeners who have a passion for seasonal music this recording is something you might feel like buying many copies of, just to distribute it to anyone on the street, really… it’s that beautiful.
It takes a very special musical brain [the great Walter Norris is the only other person or contemporaneous times that I know of] to discern two rhythmic lines at once – a bass line melody and the pulse [which, in many of these songs, is richly varied from the former] – and this is what makes this album so unutterably enjoyable.
The meditative nature of this performance is another reason that this recording recommends itself. The hanging silences within the melodic lines of “Christmas Time is Here” and “Ukrainian Bell Carol”, where sound dallies as if musical notes are suspended in elliptical arcs in the air above the room is something to marvel at. In silence and in sound these are special interpretations for one important reason: It is what makes these often familiar pieces seem so fresh that you feel as if you are hearing them for the first time. The latter piece and “Dona Nobis Pacem” are exquisite examples of what I just referred to above.
And then there are the squishy, squelchy harmonics of “‘Round Midnight” that celebrate both Thelonious Monk and the birth of Christ in an eminently beautiful and appropriately sacred and brooding manner … Who knew that the song – and Mr Monk’s unique harmonic conception belonged together at Christmastime… I could go on ad infinitum… But in the end it is the utter simplicity of the melodic and harmonic approach on every song is something most musicians and aficionados alike will be seduced by…
Miss Charlton surpasses even the attendant solitariness that is a necessary effect of solo recordings. But to reach a spiritual realm with music is why we have a day when we venerate Saint Cecilia, a mythical pianist and purveyor of the music of praise and worship. It is why we remain silent in prayer and let the proverbial chorus of angels take the stage. Yes, Catherine Marie Charlton’s album is deserving of such hyperbole… and a lot more. What an embarrasment of riches in so short a recording.
Simple Gifts [how appropriate a title] is an album to die for… not just one you will listen to at Christmastime, I might add…