By Karl W. Nehring
Not sure whether any of our readers do this, but I have found it quite useful for discovering new recordings. I subscribe to a couple of British magazines, Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine. Gramophone is relatively expensive but is packed with reviews (the version imported to the USA begins with reviews of recent releases featuring American artists and compositions) and interesting feature articles. Each issue also includes retrospective looks at classic recordings, roundup reviews of boxed sets, and recommendations regarding particular compositions. Not cheap, but a good value. BBC Music Magazine also presents good value, but in a different way. Although its reviews are not as extensive, each issue features a section wherein musicians discuss what music they have been listening to recently, plus a section that reveals the same for some of the magazine's staff. In addition, each issue comes with a CD, many of which are quite interesting, plus an article giving the background of the music on the disc. Both magazines, but especially Gramophone, also contain pages and pages of advertisements of new releases from music labels both large and small.
Now, in addition to my subscriptions to these two magazines, I also have a subscription to Amazon Music. So where is all this leading? Well, whenever I find a new issue of either magazine in my mailbox, I eagerly tote it with me back up the driveway, into the house, and oh, oh, are we gonna fly, down in the easy chair! Once settled in cozily, I pull my red pen out of my shirt pocket and begin to leaf methodically through the pages, drawing arrows that point to those recordings in which I might be interested amongst the various reviews, articles, lists, and ads. Then, as the month unfolds, I can pick up the magazine, fire up Amazon music on my phone, connect via Bluetooth to my soundbar system, and then from the comfort of my recliner audition the previously highlighted recordings to determine which ones I might be enthused enough about to justify a purchase of the CD so that I can then enjoy them more fully on my big system.
This release of music by contemporary Swedish composer Andrea Tarrodi (b. 1981) is one of the recordings I have purchased after finding a reference to it in a magazine, listening through my phone, and deciding I really wanted to hear it in all its glory. It was a rewarding purchase.
I have encountered the observation in several places that much contemporary orchestral music is more about sound than melody; in this case, that observation seems to hold, as the music on this disc presents much in the way of fascinating sounds but little in the way of hummable tunes. But no, that is not to say that Tarrodi's music is dissonant, or random-sounding, or in any way unpleasant. Although it is not particularly tuneful, it is certainly colorful and engaging to the ear.
The opening track, Camelopardalis, opens quietly in the strings, gradually gaining in volume as the rest of the orchestra joins in, imparting a sense of motion. Following what seems like a breakthrough in to a different scene, the mood changes, the calls of birds can be heard amongst the instruments of the orchestra, then a quiet solo, gentle percussion, a sense of looking out over vistas, flying, soaring, then brass, drums, a large climax, then a fade to the quiet end of what seems to have been a marvelous dream. By the way, I wrote the notes from which I have written my account before reading the liner notes, an activity of that I will leave as an assignment for the reader.
Next on the agenda is the featured composition of the release, a concerto for cello and orchestra titled Highlands. No quiet opening this time – the orchestra sounds agitated, with support from the drums. After a couple of minutes of churning energy, the solo cello enters with a plaintive sound. After being joined by some percussion, the cello embarks on a solo, with cellist Koranyi sliding down into some of the lower notes on his instrument. As he continues his playing, he is joined by some light accompaniment by some of the other instruments in the orchestra, the music becoming deeply reflective, even mysterious, as we hear what seem once again to be whistles and bird sounds. As you might expect from a piece titled Highlands, Tarrodi's score once again seems deeply rooted in the realms of nature.
Zephyros features strings and then winds establishing a mood of mystery and wonder, like entering a new realm of nature, sounds from the brass adding more color to the imaginary musical landscape. This composition seems definitely more about mood than melody, but the overall sound is pleasant and beckoning, drawing us in, leading us through some hidden realms of nature and imagination. Later, the sound of the strings seems to hover above the winds, then the brass, as the overall mood of mystery and enchantment carries through to the end.
Lucioles opens with notes from the cello, soon joined by strings and brass and once again featuring what seem to be bird calls. As the piece goes on, there are lots of fluttering sounds, augmented by lower brass notes, then percussion, the energy level building. After a climax, things quiet down, bird sounds reemerge, and a violin takes the lead. The energy then slowly builds again, brass and drums swelling, the bird sounds returning, the cello making an appearance, then the music fades back into silence.
The final selection, Birds of Paradise, opens quietly and mysteriously, then the brass section starts turning up the heat. As the music continues, we once again hear bird calls – as you would certainly expect from the title – but now they are front and center rather than just part of the overall musical landscape. There is some slowly unfolding melody from the cello as more bird calls are heard, but now from what would seem to be a flock off in the distance, getting farther and farther away as the music fades into silence.
The sound quality is excellent, with a natural tonal balance and a good sense of space. The liner notes offer some fascinating insights into the music. At just over 70 minutes, this Swedish release represents good value to those looking to enjoy some music that is different but still listenable and musically satisfying. And for those currently confined indoors because of COVID-19, this music of Tarrodi brings the sounds of nature right into your listening room.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: