Mr McFall’s Chamber/Jamie MacDougall
It is tempting to speculate that the title of this collaboration between violinist Robert McFall’s chamber ensemble and tenor and media music presenter Jamie MacDougall was born of a shared sense of humour as well as musical compatibility. A splendid red macaw adorns the cover of the disc, which appropriates the Mayan name for those birds, but nothing in the recording is mere parroting of the music of others.
Modestly, McFall has chosen not to be credited as the arranger of that music, on the basis – he explains in the booklet notes – that he has merely transcribed the work of others, to retain the authenticity of the Mexican originals. The way he has combined these sources, however, as well as adapted them from other instruments, gives the group’s way with the music its own unmistakable originality.
That approach governs the whole project, which combines six songs from MacDougall with chamber music for strings and piano (Claudio Constantini), with Stuart Semple on percussion and cellist Su-a Lee adding her individual ability on musical saw to the disc’s closer, Estrellita. That Manuel Ponce song, alongside Augustin Lara’s Granada and the set’s opening song, Maria Grever’s Cuando vuelva a tu lado, which acquired English lyrics to become What a difference a day makes, are very well-known melodies, but here they sit among a selection of 20th century Mexican chamber pieces that are likely to be much less familiar to most listeners, and are often less lush and romantic, and more urban and edgy, but diverse within themselves.
Those contrasts are what make Guacamaya a very fresh and lively way to soundtrack the summer. It seems quite a long time since either McFall’s or MacDougall issued a new recording and this one is a great credit to both.