CD Review: ‘Tre Voci.’
 Poetry, music collide in trio’s impressive effort

Tre Voci. (PR photo of the artists)
Tre Voci. (PR photo of the artists)

CHICAGO, November 5, 2014 – Tre Voci: three contrasting compositional voices speak through three contrasting instruments in this new ECM recording. Violist Kim Kashkashian added Italian-American flautist Marina Piccinini and Israeli harpist Sivan Magen to form this new trio whose geographical spread is almost as wide as that of the music on this, their first recording.

Released on September 20, “Tre Voci” highlights one of Claude Debussy’s final masterworks, placing it between two pieces—by composers Toru Takemitsu and Sofia Gubaidulina—that it inspired.

The result is a recording that literally draws a musical line from west to east, while capturing performances that will hopefully inspire more composers to write for this vital instrumental medium.

Composed towards the very end of his prolific life, Debussy’s “Sonata for flute, viola, and harp” represents what the composer thought of as an intentional foray into a purer form of music. Late works like this one look back towards his early compositions while somehow moving forward in a tighter and more economical fashion, perhaps in reaction to the emerging neoclassical school of the time.

While he planned six such sonatas, Debussy completed only three before his death. (The other two were the luminous works for violin and violoncello.) The music is sparse yet familiar, always bearing Debussy’s distinctive hallmarks of thoughtful space and harmonic richness.

Preceding the Debussy on this recording is “And then I knew ’twas Wind” by the late Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996), who was deeply influenced by his discovery of Debussy’s music. Inspired by a fragment from a poem by Emily Dickinson, this work is standard Takemitsu fare, winding its way silkily between the vestiges of western tonality and something far less familiar.

As in many of Takemitsu’s finest works, the effect here is not unlike an impressionistic painting that dwells on the border of abstraction, providing just enough certainty to create a stable intelligibility while drawing us ever forward onto new musical ground.

Sofia Gubaidulina’s (b. 1931) “Gardens of Joys and Sorrows” follows the Debussy sonata. This work grows out of the complex mysticism that characterizes so much of her work.

“Gardens” is an attempt to create a literal, musical vision of a poem by Iv Oganov, which reads: “The lotus was set aflame by music / The white garden began to ring again with diamond borders.”

So influenced was Gubaidulina by this poem that she even requires it to be read aloud at the conclusion of this piece. Gubaidulina’s effort walks a thin line between soulful Slavic lyricism and high academic modernism, while remaining always accessible, though sometimes barely so.

Gubaidulina’s piece could also easily serve as a catalog of special effects for the harp. Yet far from being a pedestrian student effort, it masterfully employs these effects to intentionally powerful effect, while the harmonic glissandi and use of overtones in the viola seem an effective conjuring of the “ring of diamonds” spoken of in the poetry.

For his part, harpist Sivan Magen must be commended for employing these difficult techniques to utterly convincing musical effect. Gubaidulina’s music may not be everyone’s cup of sonic tea, but it remains faultless in its impeccable craftsmanship.

As with the best ECM recordings, Manfred Eicher once again captures the immediate intensity of live performance with the particularly darker acoustic characteristics of the performance space. The performances on this disk are expertly executed, while the poetic yet scholarly program notes make this one a recording worth collecting.

Score another win for ECM.

Rating: ** ¾ (2 and ¾ out of 4 stars)

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