Mari: (CD Review)

Mari Samuelsen, violin; Christian Badzura, piano and synthesizer; Konzerthausorchester Berlin conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer. Works by Martynov, Richter, Glass, Vasks, Eno/Hopkins/Abrahams, Johansson, Bach, Badzura, Gregson, Eno/Roedelius/Moebius, and Clark. DG 483 58694 GH2.

By Karl W. Nehring

Violinist Mari Samuelsen has brought together a collection of interesting new music mixed with some pieces by Bach. Fortunately for us listeners, she proves adept in music from both eras, delivering us a two-CD set of delightful variety.

The set opens with the delightful second movement from Vladimir Martynov's "Come In!," a piece that will probably be unfamiliar to many of our readers. If you are delighted by this movement, which I believe many readers will be once they have heard Mari's version, you will do well to seek out a performance of the whole six-movement composition (there is an interesting CD titled Silencio by Gidon Kremer that contains the complete piece along with some music by Pärt and Glass). 

Next up is a composition by Max Richter titled Dona Nobis Pacem 2, a work that like much of Richter's music has both a minimalist and Romantic feel to it. That may sound contradictory, I know, but if you listen to this cut, you may well find those modes to be embodied in a complementary rather than contradictory fashion.

Knock knock
Knock knock
Knock knuck
Knock knock
Knock knick
Knack knock
Knock knock
Who's there?!
Philip Glass

The above joke, something I saw recently on Twitter, sets the stage for the next cut, Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach: Knee Play 2. I hope I have not offended any Philip Glass fans (to be honest, I am not much of a fan, although I do really enjoy some of his music, as you will discover below if you have not already stopped reading this review in disgust). In the liner notes, Ms. Samuelsen describes this piece as "fireworks of neurons in the brain… it's a ridiculous piece to play, never ending and very difficult. But it serves as a contrast, which I think is important." She certainly throws energy into her rendition, and yes, it does serve as quite a contrast to much of the other music in this collection.

Indeed, the next composition, Lonely Angel by Peteris Vasks, plumbs emotional depths of yearning and despair while yet offering a glimmer of hope and compassion. The solo violin sings eloquently above the orchestra. This is truly a moving performance of some beautiful music, which is followed by the brief but lovely Emerald and Stone by Eno et al., which is in turn followed by Vocal, in which Max Richter evokes the spirit of Bach in a gentle meditation for solo violin.

Mari Samuelsen
Another significant mood swing brings us an arrangement of Heptapod B by the late Johann Johannson from his soundtrack to the movie Arrival (a fascinating film, based on the short story "Story of your Life" by Ted Chiang, which you really should read before seeing the movie – or if you have already seen the movie, which you will probably want to watch again if you read the story for the first time. "Story of Your Life" can be found in Chiang's collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, a hardbound volume that has been republished in paperback with the new title – you guessed it! – Arrival. Fascinating story, fascinating film, fascinating soundtrack, and fascinating inclusion in this collection.

From science fiction the music then shifts to a brief arrangement for solo violin and strings of Bach's Invention No. 13 in A minor, BWV 784, then back to the future (for Bach, anyway – back to the recent past for us) and an absolutely lovely bit of music by Glass, the second movement of his Violin Concerto. I can still recall being totally entranced by his concerto when I first heard it many years ago in my driveway though some relatively (okay, absolutely) lo-fi speakers in one of my long-ago cars. The mood of the Glass Concerto carries into the final piece on CD1, Christian Badzura's 847, which sounds much like the Glass but with a touch less of wistfulness and a dash more of energy.

CD2 opens with the longest selection in the program, the Chaconne from Partita for Violin Solo in D minor, BWV 1004 by Bach, sounding both lively and lovely in Mari's performance. Immediately following is an arrangement for solo violin and strings of Bach's Prelude in D major, BWV 850.

Just as the Glass Violin Concerto had been followed by a Richter composition that echoed its overall sound and mood on CD1, on CD2 we find compositions first by Richter, Fragment, for solo violin, and then Peter Gregson, Sequence (Four), a piece for solo violin and strings, both of which are clearly in the spirit of Bach's music. The Gregson piece begins somewhat austerely, then grows in emotional content as it moves along, blossoming into an expressive, touching musical composition.

Also expressive in the next selection, another piece by Martynov, this one titled The Beatitudes. The melodic lines are fairly simple, but they carry great power, reminding us that beatitudes are blessings.

Simple melodies with expressive power are also manifest in By This River, a gentle composition by Brian Eno, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, and Dieter Moebius. In such simple melodies, tender feelings are given wings. 

Next on Mari's agenda is more Bach, the Presto from Sonata for Violin Solo in G minor, BWV 1001, which is followed by Christopher Clark's Mammal Step Sequence, a composition whose title might sound a bit out there, but which proves to be a relatively straightforward and pleasant composition for violin and piano, with Mari accompanied on the latter by Christian Badzura.

The delightfully titled Good Night, Day by Johann Johannson is next on the program, a gentle piece for violin and orchestra that casts a spell somewhere between a lament and a lullaby. Hearing this music, as enjoyable as it is, cannot help but make me sad to realize that its wonderfully creative composer left us all too early.

An echo of what has gone before returns in the penultimate piece in the program, Max Richter's November for violin and orchestra. There is plenty of propulsive energy here, a feeling of driving toward the finish, the end in sight, the race nearly won.

The program closes with Peter Gregson's Lullaby for solo violin, a peaceful composition that is not without an undercurrent of energy and agitation, the lullaby expressing what many of us need before retiring for the night, a working out of tension and anxiety before settling into slumber.

Ms. Samuelsen points out in the liner notes that she has "a personal connection to every single piece, and I think it's a very natural journey… the need of going into a room and just listening to sound – almost like sound therapy – is bigger than ever. People are hungry for it, and I wanted to use my creativity to collaborate and experiment with some of the great people living today. Slowing down, and people leaving their busy lives behind, is only going to become more important, so I think there will be more room for this type of collaboration, and this type of music."

Mari truly does deliver a remarkable musical experience, one that soothes the soul while still stimulating the mind. This is not dreamy New Age meandering, it is focused and purposeful serious "classical" music both old and new. The production values are top-notch. In closing, I will mention that Ms. Samuelsen has also made an earlier recording somewhat similar in tone titled Nordic Noir, which is also well worth seeking out. I look forward eagerly to future releases from this remarkable musician.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa