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.
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.
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: