Welcome back a guest reviewer, Karl W. Nehring. For over twenty years Karl was the editor of "The $ensible Sound" magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. Take it, Karl:
This new album by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers is a delightful combination of interesting music, splendid playing, excellent engineering, and even -- as an added and unexpected bonus -- thoughtful, helpful, and intelligent liner notes. If only more music releases were so thoughtfully produced!
Although on the whole I have never been a big fan of the music of Philip Glass, I have found some of his smaller-scale works to be enjoyable. Meyers opens her program with an arrangement for violin and piano by Glass's frequent collaborator Michael Reisman of the composer's Metamorphosis II. Pianist Akira Eguchi and Meyers make this piece soar and sing. Indeed, the expression and passion these musicians bring to this music belie the reputation for boringly repetitious minimalism that Glass's music has accrued among many music listeners.
Interestingly enough, the liner notes mention that Metamorphosis II was influenced by Arvo Pärt's Fratres, the next cut on this CD. I have heard many performances of various arrangements of Fratres, including some for violin and piano as on this recording, but never have I heard a performance as strikingly virtuosic as this one. I would never have thought of Pärt as composing gypsy music, but there is a hint of that here, at least to these ears. Fascinating!
Next up is the title track, Spiegel im Spiegel ("Mirror in MIrror"), also by Pärt. Although simple on the surface, this truly is a composition with great depth of feeling, a deeply reflective piece, as implied by its title. Meyers mentions in the liner notes that she had worked closely with Pärt a few years ago while recording several of his compositions, an experience that provided her with an insight into both the composer and his music. Meyers and Eguchi play this music in a loving but straightforward way, allowing listeners to find their own reflections as they gaze into the music.
|Anne Akiko Meyers|
That more introspective mood is restored, however, with the next cut, a moving piece titled Lullaby for Natalie, which was written by composer John Corigliano at the request of Meyers's husband to play in honor of their at that time yet-unborn child. In Corigliano's liner note, he mentions that Meyers sent him a video of her playing the lullaby for baby Natalie, who was indeed asleep by the end of the piece: "The baby, awake at first, was asleep at the end, so either the 5-minute lullaby had bored her to sleep or I had lived up to the promise of my title. I will never know." Those who listen to this cut will not be bored to sleep but will rather be enchanted by its charms.
The next cut, Edo Lullaby, based on the traditional Japanese folk song "Edo No Komori Uta," is a composition for violin and electronics by Jakub Ciupiñski, who explains in his liner note that the opening quotes the original melody while the rest of the piece "represents my subjective interpretation of its spirit." The end result does not sound like a traditional lullaby – there are lots of electronic effects going on in the deep bass that would shake your woofers, not to mention your baby, wide awake. Perhaps this is what Ciupiñski has in mind when he writes, "it is my personal nod to the Zen tradition, which I think of as an ancient lullaby that makes you wake up." In any event, it is an interesting piece of music that fits well into the overall arc of the program.
The next cut, Wreck of the Umbria, is also by Ciupiñski, who explains that the title came from an underwater wreck in Sudan that he had explored back in 2005. The violin has a haunting sound, a mood augmented by electronic effects that truly do allow the listener to conjure up the mental image of a mysterious underwater realm. Although my brief description might give the impression that this is bizarre, forbidding music, it is actually quite enticing and eminently listenable.
Although the previous pieces on this album have been at chamber music scale, the program concludes with an arrangement for violin and orchestra (in this performance, the Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Kristjan Järvi) by composer Morton Lauridsen of his oft-recorded (e.g., as led by the late Robert Shaw on a marvelous Telarc recording with the same title) choral piece, O Magnum Mysterium. The sound of Meyers's violin floating above the orchestral cushion is a grand and fitting way to conclude this beautiful production, which is first-class in every respect.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: