Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Cellist Hee-Young Lim Channels the Highest of the High Romantic

Cellist Hee-Young Lim‘s new album Russian Elegie with pianist Natalia Milstein – streaming at Spotify – is as evocative as you could possibly want from a collection of some of the most gorgeously emotional music ever written. Yet the two don’t overdo it. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s performances of his own work had a remarkable restraint, and the two seem to base their interpretations on that model.

They start with the iconic Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata in G minor: brief plaintive exchanges, a hint of gospel, bustling piano and a melody very close to the quiet section of the famous G minor prelude, also more than hinting at the Piano Concerto No. 2’s more scampering riffage. There are striking contrasts between the glitter and energy of the piano and the cello’s brooding cantabile, and a welcome, understatement when the music calms, in contrast with Lim’s vigorous pizzicato in places.

There’s a devious noir cabaret energy to the second movement, but the gentle High Romantic ballad at the center is completely straightforward and gives both musicians some of their most vividly expressive moments. The same rings true with the lingering, nocturnal third movement, a rare love song that isn’t mawkish or cliched. By contrast, they really nail the conclusion’s symphonic grandeur yet draw the listener in with the stunning intimacy of the next-to-last theme, one of the most unselfconsciously beautiful moments in the entire classical canon.

Next on the bill is Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata in C Major. It’s more enigmatic and maybe for that reason the duo approach the first couple of movements more emphatically and vigorously, particularly in Lim’s ferocious pizzicato chords and the second’s triumphant, bell-like false ending. The coyly carnivalesque third movement is irresistbly funny in these two’s hands; the majesty that follows comes as quite a surprise, as does the wistfulness in the final movement.

They close the album with an especially lithe interpretation of Vocalise, another iconic Rachmaninoff piece. It seems a little on the fast side, which actually works out well considering the duo’s light-fingered, remarkably subtle approach, sidestepping weepiness for a very matter-of-fact delivery. How lucky listeners are if they discover this repertoire via this particular album.

September 9, 2020 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Cinematic, Impactful, Insightfully Catchy New Album by Saxophonist Dave Pietro

Before the lockdown, music fans in New York had innumerable opportunities to see some of the best players in town work up their new albums in front of an audience. Watching the Dave Pietro Group run through a considerable portion of the picturesque, Ravel-inspired material on the saxophonist’s new record Hypersphere at a relatively intimate theatre show last year was a good omen – for the album at least. Fast forward to more than a year later: it’s out, it’s excellent and streaming at Bandcamp…and it’s illegal for the band to play that venue now. Feel like you’re living in communist China?

Pietro may be best known as a lyrical soloist and a first-call player for big bands, but he’s also a strong tunesmith with a sharp political awareness and a great sense of humor. He wrote the album’s opening track, Kakistocracy before the lockdown – yet, at a time when the corporate media have nothing but shrill masker paranoia on loop 24/7, it resonates even more potently. Over a brooding Gary Versace piano figure, he orchestrates a tense triangulation with trumpeter Alex Sipiagin and trombonist Ryan Keberle, the latter subtly ushering in a serpentine groove. Johnathan Blake’s insistent flurries behind the drum kit are another highlight; the final conversation between the horns is irresistibly funny.

Likewise, the early part of Pietro’s solo early on in Boulder Snowfall, which is more lustrously wary than wintry, Blake and bassist Johannes Weidenmueller adding bounce as the scene warms up to some triumphant flourishes from Versace.

Versace switches to organ for Gina, a lush, pillowy, catchy ballad which Pietro dedicates to his wife. The album’s title track, with its echo phrases and incisive Versace piano chords, makes a good segue. Sipiagin takes a flurrying first solo; Pietro bounces around at the top of his range; Blake’s colorful volleys drive it home.

Incandescent is exactly that, a triumphantly soaring and glimmering jazz pastorale of sorts. Pietro’s carefree but slightly smoky solo is matched by the other two horns in turn, exploratory and lyrical. Quantum Entanglement, a cha-cha with Versace opening on blippy electric piano, is a carefree platform for dancing sax and piano solos.

The understatedly moody, modally-tinged Tales of Mendacity has steadily wafting, distantly ominous harmonies and Pietro’s edgiest, most incisive solo here. The jaunty disco crescendo is suspiciously blithe: this would fit well in the Darcy James Argue catalog. Pietro closes the record with Orison: the pensively dancing bass solo is an unexpectedly cool way to open this bright chorale with its increasingly animated French Late Romantic-inspired atmosphere.

September 9, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment