Guest review by Adrian Ainsworth

What an exhilarating record this is. ‘Future Relics’ is the debut album from guitarist Kevin Daniel Cahill, and I think one of the reasons I love it so much is that it feels like it was made not only by a superb musician, but a great listener. As a result, it’s a great listen.

Reading a description of ‘Future Relics’ might initially make you think it’s more like two mini-albums or EPs gathered into one, as Cahill has assembled two very different ‘groups’ of pieces. One set is a series of classical commissions from composers he asked to write for the album, while theremaining tracks, written by Cahill himself, are rock instrumentals.

There’s certainly an intriguing legacy of ‘split personality’ albums in the rock world, where side one might have had the hits but side two was a playground. You might think of the ‘Abbey Road’ medley, or Berlin-era Bowie’s instrumentals on ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ – or even Kate Bush’s piece of audio-theatre, ‘The Ninth Wave’, taking up half of ‘Hounds of Love’. Others among you might come at this entirely differently, perhaps after a listen to fellow classical guitarist Sean Shibe’s recent ‘soft / LOUD’ album, half acoustic/ancient, half electric/modern.

But having identified these two separate sides of himself and his art, Cahill goes one step further and mixes them all up. Dovetailing the different styles of track in this way might seem, to coin a phrase, like a small step. But for the listener, it really is a series of giant leaps, with huge dynamic shifts from speaker-busting riffs and percussion to sparse, delicate picking. (The album is of course available digitally – so you can play any individual tracks you like, in any order you want. But as a measure of how important the sequencing is, I was interested to find that the only physical release of ‘Future Relics’ will be on cassette: the hardest format to ‘shuffle’…)So how and why does it work?

The album perhaps gestures most strongly towards the avant-garde with the commissioned tracks. Featuring Cahill solo, they are often steady and measured, almost at times with an improvisational, ‘working-things-out’ feel. The pieces are not in the least predictable, drawing all kinds of different timbres and harmonics from the guitarist. The combination of careful beauty and occasional savagery make you feel that whatever your accustomed style of player – from Xuefei Yang to Derek Bailey – something will resonate with you here. My personalfavourite of these is Ninfea Crutwell-Reade’s ‘Wallflower’ – slightly more fleet-footed, it starts with what sounds like a chiming lead line, only to use it to create cyclic rhythm, while a ‘true’ lead comes in simultaneously, keening, adding a ‘sheet’ of sound almost to ‘”Heroes”’ effect. Haunting yet joyful – a wonderful work.

Despite their immense heaviness at times, the rock numbers also deploy resources with real care and precision. Cahill provides most of the tracks’ heft, with hooks, riffs or drones as required, and gives generous periods in the spotlight to acrack team of fellow musicians. For example, violinist Abigail Young provides the exotic, hypnotic swirl central to ‘We’ve Taken Aqaba!’. On both this track and the fearsome ‘For Deckard’, Graham Costello plays the drums more or less as a lead instrument, driving the piece forward while constantly shifting patterns and rhythms and increasing the intensity. Cahill again finds melody in the metallic, fashioning distorted chords into tunes.

But it isn’t all strum und drang, with quieter electric pieces punctuating the album. The gorgeous, but propulsive shimmer of ‘They speak in never ending light / Resting place, God’s Acre (For Andra)’ manages to look both ways – towards the cyclic sound of ‘Wallflower’ and the more driven, agitated thrust of ‘For Deckard’. The expansive sound occasionally made me think of the peculiarly Scottish feel of ‘Big Music’ (as coined by the Waterboys’ Mike Scott) in whatever form that may take for you: whether it’s split-second echoes of Local Heroics,  or sudden bursts of barely-controlled Mogwai-style power.

Of course, it’s Cahill himself who is the unifying force across the whole record. He has shaped it – clearly he absorbs and goes on to write and play all the different styles of guitar music he loves. At the start of the album, we hear muffled voices and noise, as if the overall experience is going to represent a kind of ‘KDC FM’, with us moving between the various stations.

There’s also a strong sense that Cahill is channelling all these sources of inspiration into one style: his own. For all the reference points I’ve mentioned, throughout the album, he sounds like no-one other than himself – graceful, yet rhythmically robust on both the self-penned and commissioned material. I think the production is also a key element: ‘Future Relics’ is very concerned with the physicality and action of playing. We can hear the movement of hand and fingers against strings; the breathing; ambient hum and static – whatever’s going on, you feel like you’re in the room. This analogue touch will only be enhanced when played on a not-quite-silent cassette.

By representing his wide variety of musical passions, Cahill has made a bold record which will certainly introduce some listeners to styles of music they might not have been expecting. In doing so, however, he has in fact made an admirably coherent statement, demonstrating how one’s own work can successfully reflect many sides to the same person.

Rewarding; recommended.

Future Relics is released on 27 June. More information

Meet the Artist interview with Kevin Cahill

 

 

 

Guest review by Adrian Ainsworth

In 2015, when Carolyn Sampson first joined forces with Joseph Middleton for the recital disc ‘Fleurs’, it was more or less her first venture into art song. Up to that point, many people would have associated her most closely with the earlier end of the repertoire, her crystalline voice gracing Bach, Dowland, Handel, Lully, Monteverdi, Purcell and others besides. But that overlooks her occasional forays into more modern eras: discs of Esenvalds and Poulenc, say, or Tavener at the Proms. One senses it was only a matter of time before song came calling.

Joseph Middleton is surely one of the finest and most well-regarded accompanists working today. He is currently Director of the Leeds Lieder festival, and he received the 2016 Young Artist Award from the Royal Philharmonic Society, whose jury described him as ‘a born collaborator’. As well as a superb sound – more of which later – he has a real flair for interesting, inventive programming that gives so many of his recordings an album-like unity.

‘Fleurs’, an album of English, French and German songs all with a floral theme, was an absolute revelation to me. First, there was the opportunity to hear the purity of CS’s tone inhabit such intimate and intense settings, then to appreciate JM’s ability to honour the different composers’ styles while maintaining a consistent ‘feel’ across the whole disc.

The pair obviously clicked, as – seemingly on a mission – they have been fast assembling a distinctive, irresistible body of work. The two subsequent CDs, ‘A Verlaine Songbook’ (theme – Verlaine’s words set by a variety of composers) and ‘Lost is my Quiet’, featuring countertenor Iestyn Davies alongside CS in a programme of lovestruck duets, have been equally captivating. Now for number four, and in all honesty, it’s probably their most sublime achievement yet.

Full disclosure: Schubert is my favourite composer, and ever since I heard CS and JM were planning an all-Schubert disc, I’ve been more or less ticking off the days to release one-by-one on the calendar. At the same time, would my expectations be unreasonably high? Could this possibly be as good as I hoped it would be? Here’s why I think it is.

While this disc is their first dedicated to one composer, the duo have still pushed the programming aspect further, to find their own way into such a vast catalogue of lieder. As the title of the album suggests, the tracks chosen focus on Schubert’s ability to compose such powerful, deeply-felt songs for and about women.

As a result, the album includes some of the indelible ‘greatest hits’ you might expect – but CS and JM have kept the integrity of any suites they belong to: for example, ‘Gretchen Am Spinnrade’ comes with the Britten completion of ‘Gretchens Bitte’, and ‘Der König in Thule’; while the famous ‘Ave Maria’ is the third in the sequence of ‘Ellen’ songs, all included here. The disc’s generous running time also features all four ‘Mignon’ and both ‘Suleika’ lieder.

‘Suleika I’ opens the programme, and is as good an example as any to illustrate the telepathic connection the duo seem to share. The early part of the song demands that JM play with great tenderness, but at great speed, as the accompaniment shimmers beneath lyrics speaking of burning heat cooled by the stirring wind. CS, taking full advantage of one of Schubert’s loveliest vocal melodies, shapes her tone and timbre to be part confessional, part conversational. The power and excitement rise – the dynamics of the piano and voice in perfect sync – then subside into the steadier sensuality of the closing, repeated verse. It’s the first five or minutes, containing an album’s worth of delights.

Two of the ‘stand-alone’ songs are also particular stand-outs for me. Like the ‘Suleika’ songs (words by Marianne von Willemer), the lyric used for ‘Romanze’ was also written by a woman, Wilhelmina Christiane von Chézy. Perhaps understandably, this draws out an exquisitely tender rendition from CS. As the voice sighs its way towards the end of each verse, JM subtly increases the volume of the left hand, as if the bass could buoy the singer up. The very last ‘Herz’ is as heartbreaking as the final line describes.

This is followed by ‘Blondel zu Marien’, which starts as almost a steady, stately serenade. However, as each of the two verses progress, they build to a complex sequence dominated by a spine-tingling downward cascade of notes, punctuated by trills and decorations that demonstrate exactly why CS’s combination of vocal beauty and agility make her such a natural communicator in art song.

I could enthuse like this about every track on the disc, from the tragic dignity of ‘So last mich scheinen’ (the third Mignon song) to that Everest of lieder, the 13-minute ‘Viola’, where both navigate the changes in mood as if a single unit.

But perhaps it’s wise to finish on ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’, an extraordinary song by any standards, but famously composed when Schubert was only seventeen. The piano represents Gretchen’s spinning wheel, and by extension, her (in)ability to focus on operating it as she is distracted by thoughts of Faust, the man she loves. As a result, the accompaniment endlessly orbits around itself – apart from one key moment – while the voice rings out above it, ranging from hesitancy to unchecked passion. It’s hard to imagine a song where it’s more vital for the two performers to track each other with such precision, while conveying such extremes of emotion.

CS and JM absolutely nail it. As in the very best performances of this song I’ve heard, the pace only starts with exact regularity, until the movement begins to shift constantly with Gretchen’s concentration. JM audibly changes the way he ‘leans’ on the keys, spikier here, lengthier there, as if to capture the changing pressure on the wheel. CS is utterly in character and expertly paces the build-up to the astonishing ‘breakdown’ near the end of the song when the wheel stops altogether. After the climactic “sein Kuss!” she takes a breath, and then another, her Gretchen clearly reeling before gathering herself and sending the wheel spinning again.

Moments like this not only help elevate the disc from being brilliant to something of an instant classic – they also prompt me to mention the fantastic production by Jens Braun, recording at Suffolk’s Potton Hall. All four of the Sampson/Middleton CDs were made in the same conditions, and the space within the sound really helps you to feel like you’re in the room as private audience – especially if you use a decent pair of headphones.

This is the kind of album I could talk about until you physically stopped me; I can imagine pressing copies into the hands of friends. It’s everything I could have hoped for, and more.


Adrian Ainsworth writes for a living, but mostly about things like finance, tax and benefits. For light relief, then, he covers his obsessions – overwhelmingly music, but with sprinklings of photography and art – on the ‘Specs’ blog, which you can find at adrianspecs.blogspot.co.uk

Twitter @Adrian_Specs

Adrian is a regular guest writer for The Cross-Eyed Pianist


A Soprano’s Schubertiade is available on the BIS Records label

Catalogue Number BIS-2343 SACD
EAN 7318599923437
Format SACD Hybrid
Release date Apr 2018
Total time 77’32

Guest review by Mary Grace Nguyen

Extraordinary, unconventional, interactive and fun are the words I would use to describe the launch of crossover artist and classical music pianist AyseDeniz Gokcin’s new album, A Chopin Affair: Sonatas. On Friday night [March 9th] St James’s Sussex Gardens near Paddington was surprisingly packed – people had to find chairs and create their own space to sit down. The audience was a mix of savvy young artists, bright-eyed students, middle-aged professionals and family members keen to grab a glass of wine, relax and listen to some scintillating Chopin.

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The Turkish classical pianist has produced crossover albums including music inspired by Pink Floyd and Kurt Cobain from Nirvana. She recently told me in an interview, “if you look at history, Liszt was a showman and Chopin was very much behind the scenes…they were very innovative and active. We don’t have that anymore.” Breaking the mould, Gokcin sees a gap in the classical music industry, “although I do crossover projects, they have a message. There are issues that I care about.” Gokcin is on a mission to change society, one way or other, whether it’s through channeling classical works in a unique way or transmitting a social message about issues she cares about through brand new music.

Sitting on the right of the stage, by the grand piano, was street artist and Instagram star, Zabou and conceptual artist from the Royal College of Art, Tommy Ramsay. Both artists accompanied Gokcin in the art of painting as she performed Chopin’s Piano Sonatas Nos. 2 &  3. One sonata after the other, Ramsay and Zabou presented their own depiction of what Gokcin had prepared for them on the piano keys through Chopin’s music.

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As a regular concertgoer, I am used to people turning off their phones beforehand, but here photography was almost encouraged. The audience took endless photographs of the entire event and despite the usual concert etiquette standards, it felt entirely acceptable for this relaxed and quirky event.

Although a late start, Gokcin was in good spirits and beaming with excitement when she came on stage. Presenting herself in a black laced skateboard dress, she expressed her personal relationship with Chopin’s music and her interest in his relationship with female writer George Sand with little hesitation. She recalled her years as a student, learning the sonatas and discovering the deep and emotional connection she had with the music from being away from home, performing in interesting and unusual venues such as the Kremlin in Moscow or a basketball court in Ecuador.

Piano Sonata No. 2 includes the immediately-recognisable Funeral March; a slow and sombre movement with a highly lyrical middle section. Gokcin’s dexterous fingers did not lose form in this movement. In fact, she appeared more focused and attentive. From the outset, the first two movements and last (Grave, Scherzo and Finale) are a feast of lyrical themes, varying tempo and dynamics. It was marvellous watching Gokcin perform with great control and confidence, sliding her fingers across the piano and never missing a beat.

The “Funeral March” sonata contrasts with the optimism and major key of the Piano Sonata No. 3. Gokcin encapsulated the serene and beautiful melodic tones in the Scherzo – Molto Vivace, and took the pace down a notch with the Largo. With Gokcin’s playing, she takes you on an infinite journey into the unknown, but you’d happily walk the same path for ever. Where the music was uplifting, Gokcin maintained the energy and where the notes needed emotional stock, Gorkin intimately fused with the music.

Interestingly, despite the more relaxed atmosphere, no one in the audience applauded between movements. Here was another of the very few concerts that celebrate the accessibility and inclusive nature of classical music. Maybe we need to take a leaf out of Gokcin’s book and find new ways to become more innovative.


Mary Grace Nguyen is a blogger and reviewer at TrendFem focussing on opera, theatre, dance, music and art. She holds an MA in Journalism from Birkbeck College, and graduated from SOAS with a degree in Anthropology and studied Modern Japanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). In addition to her blog, Mary has also written for various online publications including LondonTheatre1, LDNCARD, Fringe Opera, CultureVulture.net and Theatre and Perform.

Twitter: @MaryGNguyen