Thursday, 7 March 2013

Madrigali dell'Estate - McCaldin sings McNeff

I've been in the unusual and ultimately enviable position of watching the birth of a solo recital disc for the past ten months. As that soloist, the mezzo-soprano Clare McCaldin has been preparing to record music that Stephen McNeff has been writing for her over a few years. This video gives you an idea of what the disc is about.

This debut recital disc is an admirable record of varied contemporary works. Full of good, interesting music that represents the composer Stephen McNeff's aesthetic, it is also well performed by any standard, Clare McCaldin giving an attractive recital through the competent negotiation of considerable technical demands. The disc is an unflagging showcase for both musicians whose stamina in invention and charisma means there is no filler. Of course the high-end professionalism of pianist Andrew West and George Vass' Orchestra Nova Ensemble are, in this situation, not so much support as part of the weave of the fabric (and naturally, as a friend and colleague of the artists, I'd be inclined to say all this even if it weren't quite the case).

What's equally interesting to me however is to have had the inside track, watching the project come to fruition. In this digitally settled second decade of the 21st century, it might appear an easier operation to record, edit, publish and distribute a selection of music. This is simply not the case.

The space, equipment and engineering expertise to record an hour's poised, acoustic music requires a considerable outlay - or the unqualified support of a forward thinking outfit such as the record company Champs Hill, which has benefitted this project.

Though the music is original and personal to the performers, the web of publishers with whom the well-established composer works must be consulted and paid, as must be the extraordinary instrumental musicians appearing on the disc. The labour of raising funds through applications and the suchlike is considerable.

Moreover, without a dedicated, project-managing record company organising all this due process, the artist whose vehicle this is must assume the role of pulling it all together. This means ensuring the smooth running of the many facets of the project over the crucial recording period whilst trying to compartmentalise sufficient energy and focus to render an appealing record.

At this level - as in most day-to-day self-employment in the music industry - there is no insurance for illness or other insurmountable administrative hiccoughs. As a result, the discipline and technical assurance at this, the lower tier of commercial production, is essential not simply to produce good, marketable music but also to ensure that recording happens at all. One can imagine all this. Yet what's fascinating is that we listen to and appreciate the result on its own merits without the distraction of this backstory, however noteworthy. And that's how it should be.

Madrigali dell'Estate is available for download or CD purchase from or direct from

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