Piano-Heaven Award Winner:

San Juan Suite

Michael Gettel

Narada Records

  1988

 

 

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The linear notes from Narada describe the music on this CD as, "sparkling piano solos (which) dance with the natural sounds of the San Juan Islands". These words capture well the music within this CD.

San Juan Suite is Michael Gettel's finest outing. He showcases his amazing piano ability with highly melodic pieces, each telling their own story. There is some amazing music to be found here. The nine tracks, totalling around 49 minutes, bring the islands to life.

The review below refers to the single album release, but the more widely available release is the two-CD album: the original album with the follow-up outing.

In the linear notes, Michael explains how his music reflects his impressions of the beautiful San Juan Islands, located in Puget Sound, which lies between Washington State and Canada. As well as being inspired to compose by what he sees around him, Michael explains another source of inspiration: "There is always music in the San Juans. Listen closely and you can hear the splashing seal, otter and whale. Gulls relentlessly add their own song, mingled with breezes gentle or strong. And there is always the sound of the sea; it is the heartbeat of the San Juans."

Michael goes on to explain how he used the piano just as a photographer might use a camera in order to capture a place at a certain moment in time: "The style of each song, whether fast and technically challenging, or gentle and flowing, portrays unique feelings and memories of time spent and places visited."    

The highlight of the CD is the third track. It starts innocently with nature sounds, but then ominous thunder crashes from the speakers. The piano melody begins with a solitary note- the first drop of rain. The tempo increases as the rain-storm intensifies. Thunder and rain combine to create the most amazing storm. The piano playing on this piece is nothing short of sensational, with interesting use of syncopation. There is tremendous variety in the piece, and it makes for an enthralling experience. The music ends as it began, with the thunder gradually becoming quieter, signalling the passing of the storm. Michael told me how this piece came about one day when he was fishing with a friend and they were caught in the most tremendous storm. Inspired by what he had witnessed first-hand, he returned to home to compose his piece.

But Summer Rain is only one of several highlights within this CD. Take Whalesong, which combines real sounds of whales with beautiful piano playing. You can hear the joy and fun the whales are experiencing. The combination of whale sounds and the piano melody work surprisingly well. Most impressive is the opening to this track, which makes for an incredible listening experience. I think it captures the energy of the waves.

Sucia / Shallow Bay are effectively two different pieces merged into one track. The music soars. Orcas is equally wonderful as the second cut of the CD. The Straits is another favourite, with an instantly appealing melody and more stunning piano playing. 

Released in 1988, the CD somehow fell out of print for a while, but Narada finally saw sense and re-released it as part of a two-CD package, combining the original with the sequel. In 1998, a decade after the original CD was released, Michael added two new compositions, "Watercolours"- inspired by the composer Eric Satie, and "The Kelpie" which came about after Michael thought he glimpsed the equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster (a Kelpie is a legendary Scottish ‘beastie’ believed to inhabit Lochs). Both new tracks are a pleasure to listen to.

"San Juan Suite" is a magical CD of the highest quality.

S.C.

 

 

 

 

 

San Juan Suite

Michael Gettel

 

  

 

Michael Gettel

 

 

 

 

A more recent photograph of Michael Gettel