Margery McDuffie Whatley


Atlanta Audio Video Club Website, Phil Muse’s review of Mozart to Gershwin

Margery McDuffie Whatley, piano
ACA Digital Recordings

Margery McDuffie Whatley’s Mozart to Gershwin is the sort of recital that reminds me of the bravura act you will sometimes see in which a performer successfully juggles objects vastly different in mass and texture – say, a small rubber ball, a basketball, a bowling pin, and a pineapple – keeping them in motion without missing a trick. This is the equivalent for the pianist: a program of works contrasted in period, style, gravity, texture, rhythm, color, and emphasis. It’s just the thing for an established keyboard artist who is ready to move on to greater acclaim. And Whatley passes all the tests with colors.

In Mozart’s Variations on the French nursery rhyme Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman (known to English-speaking listeners as “Twinkle, twinkle, Little Star”) the premium is on rhythm and an exquisite sense of timing as the composer keeps us on the edge of our seats, eager to hear what he will pull next out of his bag of surprises. In Beethoven’s great Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, the “Tempest,” it’s rhythm again (often of the galloping variety) and also texture, among other elements, as we range from deeply sonorous chords to fast moving arepeggiated ones. Dynamics are a challenge for the artist here, from quiet mysterious openings to full blown tempestuous climaxes.

Chopin’s Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 20 and his Nocturne in D-flat Major, Op. 27, no. 2 are a nicely contrasted pairing, the former with its powerfully charged outer sections softly enfolding a central moment of quiet repose for which the composer took the melody of an old Polish carol in the form of a lullaby for the infant Jesus, and the latter extravagantly spiining out a charming lyrical melody over a bass of broken chords. Next come the Impressionists. Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau (reflections on the water) from Images I captures the myriad of color facets and the patterns of wind-blown sprays of water on a pond. Charles Tomlinson Griffes’ The White Peacock visualizes the slow, unhurried progress of its subject (“pale as the breath of blue smoke in far woodlands”) and, in a chain of notes sounded first at the very beginning, the call of the peacock itself, heard in its crystalline purity without that creature’s raucous overtones. Finally, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, in which Whatley is joined by second pianist Steven Hesla, lets us hear the influence of jazz and blues on modern classical music, with its jagged rhythms, pungent flatted-note harmonies, and the strong, pulsating rhythms in which Gershwin aimed to capture “our unduplicated national pep.”

Credit some excellent support from ACA Digital in which every resounding note and soft expressive sigh from Whatley’s Steinway D is captured in true, clean perspective without calling undue attention to the recording process itself. All of ACA’s team are represented here, with Fyodor Cherniavsky as producer, Tommy Joe Anderson session engineer, and Fred Horton digital editor. A first-class production all


~ Phil Muse (from Audio Video Club of Atlanta website, January 2011)