Mariel Roberts: “Cartography” (CD Review)

Mariel Roberts

Cartography

New Focus Recordings CD/DL

Mariel Roberts

Cartography

New Focus Recordings CD/DL

Cellist Mariel Roberts’ second solo album, Cartography, provides a stylistically diverse set of pieces that are all played compellingly and with earnest commitment. Eric Wubbels’ gretchen am spinnrade’ has little to do with Schubert apart from taking the spinning wheel as its motivation. Indeed, spinning gestures abound, but they are hyperkinetic in terms of speed and demeanor (Wubbels plays the piano with almost daemonic fury). Roberts is required to retune her cello, employ microtones, and scratch strings with her fingernails. The propulsive sections are on the edge of assaultive, and when the piece takes a breather and moves into more atmospheric territory, the listener may well realize that their shoulders are around their ears. That said, it is a most impressive work, from the standpoint of virtuosity and extended techniques and in the dynamic interplay between the performers.

Cenk Ergun’s Aman is quite different. It relies first on percussive effects, with clocklike pizzicatos moving from higher register to low open strings. Grating string sounds are set against electronics, some of which take on an old-school analog cast while others play off the percussive sounds in the cello. Again, pacing is key. Where Wubbels seemed eager to take listeners to the edge, Ergun places his sounds carefully and purposefully, allowing each one to settle before the next follows, creating a fascinating blend of acoustic and electric sounds. The long denouement, where Roberts finally gets to play some bowed sounds, replete with microtonal haze and delicious slides, is a welcome surprise.

Spinner, by George Lewis, begins emphatically, with double stop glissandos, tremolandos, and slashing gestures. Despite its modernist demeanor, it is actually the most conventionally scored piece on Cartography. While the elements are ones that appear in plenty of contemporary repertoire, without electronics or fingernail scratches to adorn them, Lewis incorporates this vocabulary into a spiraling form (hence the title) that allows for discontinuous development; it is a fascinating compositional design. Indeed, ‘spinner’ is my favorite work thus far of his in the concert tradition. 

There are relatively few notes in Daneil Brynjar Franzen’s The Cartography of Time, a sprawling amplified work more than twenty minutes in duration. But each note is wrung of every bit of resonance, making it seem to truly matter. Against the pitches is an exaggerated whoosh of unpitched string sound, providing a rustling and airy background. Partway through, the piece abandons lower notes for high harmonics, which reverberate intensely. Then the two are combined to great a ghostly duet. Then still another, yet higher, set of harmonics enter, making a registral trio. The slow fade that ensues is one to savor.

Roberts thus treats us to a program in which there are works that use material sparingly and those that exude abundance. Cartography is an engaging listen from start to finish. One might ask how she can top it, but then her first album, 2012’s Nonextraneous Sounds, engendered similar questions, so watch out for what Roberts has yet in store for us!

Zodiac Trio (CD Review)

Zodiac Trio

Dreamtime

Zodiac Trio

Kliment Krylovskiy, clarinet
Vanessa Mollard, violin
Riko Higuma, piano

Blue Griffin Records CD/download

Formed at Manhattan School of Music in 2006, the Zodiac Trio have been ambitious in their commissioning projects. Joined by guest cellist Ariel Barnes, on their second album Dreamtime they tackle a program consisting entirely of 21st century music.

The CD features two substantial commissioned works: Lamentations, by Richard Danielpour, and Andrew List’s Klezmer Fantazye.  As one might well expect, both use the scalar patterns and gestural language of Klezmer, Danielpour in plaintive fashion and List with greater exuberance. On Aboriginal Dreamtime, List uses that culture’s creation myth as a starting pointing for an evocative piece. The group switches gears on John Mackey’s Breakdown Tango. Joined by Barnes, the Zodiac demonstrates ample virtuosity, playing with rhythmic verve and tight knit ensemble coordination.

Dreamtime is capped off with Across the Universe, a twelve-piece collection featuring one-minute pieces all inspired by signs of the Zodiac. It is a great way to put a distinctive stamp on the commissioning process (each piece responds to its particular sign thoughtfully and imaginatively) and to provide a “taster platter” of several composers’ styles. Standouts include Stanley Hoffmann’s lilting dance for Capricorne, James Romig’s delicately mysterious Virgo, John McDonald’s piquant Scorpio, and Francine Trester’s bumptious Aries. 

One hopes that Zodiac will continue commissioning. Dreamtime demonstrates that they excel at bringing new compositions to life.

 

Laura Cetilia on Estuary, Ltd.

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Used, Broken, & Unwanted

Laura Cetilia, cello, autoharp, voice, and electronics

Estuary Ltd. CD

 

A live recording from 2013 made in Providence, Rhode Island, Used, Broken, and Unwanted demonstrates to good effect the wide-ranging timbral palette and drone-based structures that artist Laura Cetilia explores. The title track makes use of repetition, not in the symmetrical fashion of process-driven minimalism, but to create an undulating undergirding for the wisps of vocal and cello melodies that sporadically emerge. This elegantly segues into the exquisitely fragile “Thrum/Pin.”

“Plucked from Obscurity” makes efficacious use of pizzicato; the electronics with which it contends range from the bell-like to the percussive. Particularly lovely is the delicate album closer “Tears of Things,” in which the main, initially pizzicato-driven, ostinato is gradually supplanted by sweeping guttural electronics and an accumulation of upper register sustained notes.

In the surprisingly burgeoning field of cellists who sing, Cetilia is a distinctive one. Alternately penetrating and atmospheric, Used, Broken, and Unwanted is a stimulating listen throughout.

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Crossings – New Music for Cello (CD Review)

Crossings – New Music for Cello

Kate Dillingham, cello; Amir Khosrowpour, piano

Furious Artisans Recordings

 

On Crossings, cellist Kate Dillingham brings energetic artistry to a program of new works. The CD includes a number of solo pieces. Bhakti 4, “Atma Shatakam” (Song of the Self), by Jonathan Pieslak, pairs a meditative modal melody over a drone. Tian Jing Sha, by Yuan-Chen Li, calls upon the cellist to sing in delicate tones alongside a vigorously arpeggiated accompaniment rife with trills. Behold the Lamb of God by Jorge Muniz  is a supple work, its ardent melodic lines creating a rhapsodic ambience that alternates with brusquely repeated notes. Chemin, Three Episodes, and Aria for solo cello by Federico Garcia de Castro exploits the cello’s full range in insistent low double stops, long glissandos, and penetrating harmonics. These surround a mid-range melodic thread built out of unconventional scalar fragments. David Fetherolf’s E io li tenni dietro is an extended suite featuring a variety of demeanors and playing techniques. Passages of pizzicato (plucked) figures, multi-stops, and harmonics are complemented by dancing figures and moody angular melodies.

Joined for duos by pianist Amir Khosrowpour, Dillingham digs in to Gilbert Galindo’s Almost Within Reach, relishing its passionate long breathed melodies and altissimo register cries. Khosrowpour is equally impressive, performing limpid cascades and stentorian chordal outbursts with precision and forceful authority. Allen Schulz’s A Dance of Shadows finds the duo in a dramatic colloquy filled with syncopated gestures and brusquely dissonant verticals. The recording’s highlight, Adagio pour Amantani  by Gabriela Lena Frank, is an expansive and beautiful piece, filled with lyrical cello recitatives and soaring passages for the piano. Frank’s harmonic language is intriguingly varied, at some points incorporating triadic writing while at others delving into more intricate chromaticism. Crossings does indeed provide an intersection between a multiplicity of compositional voices and aesthetics. It is unified by the commitment and considerable capabilities brought to each and every performance on the recording. Recommended.