AMBIENCE Album Review by Textura
The solo piano recording's enduring popularity is re-affirmed by these recent releases by Glasgow, Scotland's Joe Hume, Brooklyn-based Argentinean Emilio Teubal, and New Zealander Phil Broadhurst, whose Soliloquy was completed in April 2020, mere weeks before his passing.
None of the three is more accessible than Hume's Ambience for its inclusion of four familiar pieces, among them Bach's “Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring” and Satie's “Gymnopedie,” alongside seven originals. As his choice of covers suggests, Hume draws for inspiration in his playing and composing from the Romantic tradition and figures such as Chopin and Debussy. The forty-minute project came about when Hume moved to Paris for nine months in 2019 to work as a solo classical pianist, which in turn prompted the writing of “Café de Paris” and a piano arrangement of Barber's Adagio for Strings. After sharing them through music media channels and witnessing the warm reception they received, Hume decided to record an album-length set of melodic, atmospheric music.
“Café de Paris” instates the mood with a gently radiant piece that's uplifting yet melancholy, too. The music breathes expansively, its stateliness an effective evocation of the city's architectural grandeur, street life, and gardens; subsequent originals such as “Del Mar,” “Winter's Tale,” “Danny's Prelude,” and the lilting “Northern Shore” show themselves to be as melodically enticing. His rendering of Saint-Saëns' “The Swan” is as graceful and lyrical as one would expect, its modulations between major and minor striking to the ear, and “Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring” and “Gymnopedie” receive suitably dignified treatments. Barber's setting, here rechristened “Adagio for Piano,” is rendered with affection and deep feeling.
Hume's playing, which is neither minimalistic nor opaque, is a joy throughout. It's marked by effortless command, the pianist clear about the result he wishes to achieve and thoroughly capable of realizing it; consider by way of example his balanced handling of tempo, dynamics, and flow in “Nocturne.” In places the material's prettiness nudges the recording in a New Age direction, but that's hardly objectionable. Even if a couple of the covers are—for this listener, at least—a tad familiar, Hume's fresh take more than compensates, and the originals hold up well next to the established fare. A highly appealing and commendable recording, all things considered.
Originally published July 2020 by Textura