Thursday 28 September 2017

Architecture into music

Freya Waley-Cohen Permutations, Unveil; Tamsin Waley-Cohen; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 22 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Freya Waley-Cohen's multi-tracked violin piece for her sister, inspired by its architectural setting

At first sight, this new disc from Signum Classics is a recording of violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen performing pieces by her sister, Freya Waley-Cohen, but further exploration makes it apparent that the works on the disc are for multi-tracked violin, in fact we have six Tamsin Waley-Cohens performing. Further reading of Freya Waley-Cohen's lucid booklet note, makes it clear that what we hear is simply part of a far greater whole.

Permutations grew out of a project which Freya Waley-Cohen did with her sister, Tamsin, and with the architects Finbarr O'Dempsey and Andrew Skulina in which the architects designed an architectural setting which consisted of six individual chambers each with its own pre-recorded violin part. (You can read more about it on Freya Waley-Cohen's website). By moving around the installation, listeners are able to experience the piece in different ways, choosing which lines to make more prominent, with all six being equally balanced in the middle. In effect, Freya Waley-Cohen is adding a John Cage-like element of chance into the piece as the individual listener creates their own piece from the components that she has created.
And, as with any other chance-based piece, doing a recording means making a series of decisions. So what we have here is Freya Waley-Cohen's version, her ideal or perhaps simply one of many ideals.

Essentially what we have here is a fascinating violin sextet, and Freya Waley-Cohen creates a very striking and often complex polyphonic world. There are moments when the lines come together, but quite often they are acting independently. And, in her note she talks about the way she thought of the musical material as a set of characters, so this is very much a set of characters having a conversation. A complex, and sometimes quite dramatic one, with much spiky material but lucidly constructed.

The work is less than 18 minutes long, so I did wonder whether Signum could not have let us have more than one version of the piece, emulating a little the live experience. And I would also be interested in hearing it performed live by six violinists, a real conversation. But the performance here from Tamsin Waley-Cohen is very strong and up front, with no sense of constraint from the multi-tracking. The second, shorter, piece on the disc is a striking work for solo violin based on Freya Waley-Cohen's violin improvisations made during the acoustic experiments early on in the project.

Freya Waley-Cohen (born 1986) - Permutations [17.53]
Freya Waley-Cohen - Unveil [9.51]
Recorded in the Britten Studio, Snape Maltings, Aldburgh - 10-14 October 2016
Available from Amazon.

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