Exciting New Harp Music from Duo Scorpio
Much as the harp has been celebrated for its angelic sound, it’s also been a staple of horror movies. The rather ominously named Duo Scorpio transcend any preconceptions about harp music, whether heavenly or horrible (they are capable of both and everything in between) on their debut album. Virtuosos Kathryn Andrews and Kristi Shade share a birthday, November 5 (hence the ensemble name), a vivid chemistry and a strong attunement to emotional content throughout an exciting, diverse mix of new and recent compositions that push the limits of what can be done with the instrument. With its ambitious scope, energy and extended technique (percussive effects, rubbed and muted strings and more), it often evokes the similarly pioneering work of Bridget Kibbey.
Bernard Andrès is represented by two tracks here. Le Jardin des Paons, which opens the album, is a lush triptych with Asian allusions, alternately dancing and severe, bringing to mind both Bernard Herrmann and Erik Satie with its moody insistence before ending on a warmer, more verdant note, glissandos paired off against brightly attractive, incisive motifs. The album closes with Parvis, an otherworldly, tango-flavored piece with a long, understatedly Lynchian crescendo over velvety swells.
A triptych commission from Robert Paterson, Scorpion Tales is the centerpiece here. Terse noirisms, creepy syncopation and divergent, Andriessen-esque bell-like tones span the entirety of the harps’ sonic capabilities in the opening segment. In the middle section, an eerie twinkling gives way to a courtly, anthemic waltz lowlit by coyly baroque harmonies. It concludes with The Tale of Orion, a rhythmically playful, Brazilian-tinged narrative bookended by starlit austerity.
Caroline Lizotte’s Raga builds increasingly catchy, hypnotically circling variations out of minimalist atmospherics, while Sebastian Currier‘s Crossfade, the most nebulous piece here, pushes toward and then retreats from clenched-teeth suspense with artfully shifting polyrhythms. The most challenging and jazz-oriented work here, Stephen Taylor’s Unfurl employs what seems to be alternate tunings and gritty low overtones, shifting from menacingly exploratory ripples to a bit of a dance and then back. You might not expect a recording for harp to be as much of a fun ride as this one is.
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