As with all new music I find there are two ways to listen to it: one is to try to analyze it as one listens so that one can do what is expected of a reviewer – to write coherently about both the music and the performance.
The other way, which I find more congenial is to let oneself be taken into a more spontaneous state which I would with some hesitation like to call, for lack of a better description, a semi-conscious one. I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but that way of letting go while listening to new music, even when trying to write about it later is much more pleasant and much less restrictive.
As I listened to Gemma Peacocke’s mesmerizing work for cello and electronics Amygdala in BRIGHT SHINY THINGS soon to be released CD LAVENA in your hands (BSTC-0145) I was puzzled by its title, until I got to my Webster’s and was able to let its definition clear things up for me: “an almond-shaped mass of gray matter, one in each hemisphere of the brain, associated with feelings of fear and aggression and important for visual learning and memory.” I listened on, feeling neither fear nor aggressive impulses but rather a pleasant sensation akin to something halfway between consciousness and unconsciousness.
I then moved on to Jesse Montgomery Duo for Violin and Cello, a three-part work whose movements range from the agitated Meandering, chockfull of sul ponticello bowing from William Herzog’s violin to tapping on the body of the cello from Lavena Johanson, and from both various effects that lead to a humorously abrupt ending. Dirge, the second of the work’s three movements is a plangent lament for solo cello that receives soulful playing from Johanson. The final Presto – a dizzying moto-perpetuo is played at warp speed by the technically dazzling pair.
Carolyn Shaw’s beautifully meditative solo work for unaccompanied cello, in manus tuas gets its inspiration from the Catholic Compline Service text “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. You have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.”
In Ted Hearne’s Furtive Moments – a duo for cello and percussion – the composer commands the cellist to bow in various ways, even at times imitating the beating of a human heart, or else pause to pluck or beat the strings or the body of the instrument, using the entire melodic, harmonic and percussive potential of her instrument, including a haunting use of harmonics. The process is aided by the playing of Jeff Sterns on percussion.
Bryce Dessner’s Tuusula memories perhaps of a trip to Finland elicit from the cello a series of hauntingly evocative passages that call for the cellist to summon her impressive technique to work at capacity.
In Judah Adashi’s movingly tender my heart comes undone Johanson’s cello weaves in and out of a single melodic line that ascends musically towards a quiet ending.
Engineered by Edwin Huet and self-produced by Lavena Johanson LAVENA in your hands is a fascinating sampler of new music played by a gifted performer.
Rafael de Acha ALL ABOUT THE ARTS (@rafaelmusicnotes.com)