When the good people at Parma Records first sent me this Ravello release, I thought that couloir was vaguely related to the French word for color. Wrong! A coulouir, as defined by more than one dictionary, is a corridor, a passage, a fissure, a gully, a steep gradient in mountainous terrain that hopefully provides a way up into higher ground.
Fortunately, the Canadian duo of cellist Ariel Barnes and harpist Heidi Krutzen (www.couloir.CA) has embraced both Couloir for their professional name as well as the positive connections of their adopted name. Barnes and Krutzen climb musical heights to their own heartbeats, and in this most recent exploration of theirs they successfully conquer the musical pointillism of James B. Maxwell’s 2012 Serere for harp and cello
By way of further clarification, Serere has enough meanings to set off a linguistic debate. In legalese, to serere is to spread or propagate. Serere is a town in Uganda, an ethnic group in Senegal, a health food association in Italy… I took my pick and went with the New Age definition “to join, link or bind together…” given on the record jacket.
But what’s in a name! What matters here is that Barnes and Krutzen give Maxwell’s Serere a heartfelt reading that highlights all the musical snippets, gestures, phrases, bits and pieces that make up this musical mosaic and makes them coalesce into a cohesive composition for the cello-harp pairing. Barnes bow work is elegant, his attacks dead-on, his command of a full palette of colors nothing short of impressive. Krutzen serves the piece well, doing the job of a rhythm section most of the time.
Second in the CD, the Couloir duo tackles Nico Muhly’s 2003 Clear Music For Cello, Harp and Celesta with equally felicitous results, with Krutzen busier now doing some fine filigree work on her instrument. Muhly’s composition was inspired by a melodic snippet from a religious composition by the 16th century English composer John Taverner, providing a wonderful introduction for the uninitiated to the young American’s hypnotic compositions. Joining Couloir, Maryliz Smith (www.marylizsmith.com) gives the potentially-tinkly celesta a mellow, bell-like, full sound.
Third in the CD, Maxwell’s imaginative Serere gets a repeat, this time juxtaposing its essentially tonal roots to an electro-acoustic sound landscape that imitates with no small amount of humor the sounds of scribbling for a mesmerizing 26 minutes.
The Ravello (www.ravellorecords.com) release gets tender, loving and limpid engineering from Nate Hunter and Will Howie, making this CD a keeper for all fans of new music.
Rafael de Acha