Wednesday 17 June 2020

Contemporary re-invention: the String Orchestra of Brooklyn's debut disc features two works which re-invent fragments of classics

afterimage Christopher Cerrone, Jacob Cooper; String Orchestra of Brooklyn, Eli Spindel; Furious Artisans
Christopher Cerrone, Jacob Cooper; String Orchestra of Brooklyn, Eli Spindel; Furious Artisans

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 June 2020 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Fragments of 18th century classics give rise to contemporary re-inventions in this debut disc from the Brooklyn-based ensemble

On this disc from Furious Artisans, afterimage, the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, founder and artistic director Eli Spindel, perform two contemporary works which echo fragments of older ones. The orchestra is joined by the Argus Quartet for Christopher Cerrone's High Windows, and joined by soprano Melissa Hughes and mezzo-soprano Kate Maroney for Jacob Cooper's Stabat Mater Dolorosa.

The String Orchestra of Brooklyn (SOB) was founded in 2007 by conductor Eli Spindel. The orchestra is a volunteer ensemble which embraces an inclusive approach to music-making, the SOB seeks to democratize both the production and reception of concert music.  The present disc is its recording debut, though the disc was made in 2016.

Christopher Cerrone is a New York City-based composer who studied at the Manhattan School of Music and at Yale. His piece for string orchestra and string quartet, High Windows was written for the String Orchestra of Brooklyn in 2013 (when he and the orchestra's founder, Eli Spindel were neighbours). The work takes a fragment of Paganini's Caprice No. 6 in G minor (which we hear later on the disc, played by Rachel Lee Priday), along with an older work of Cerrone's to create something new, yet also inspired by the idea of the 17th century sonata. It starts with vigorous string crossing, and then suddenly become delicate, yet throughout all the changes of texture, we note the way Cerrone uses repeated gestures to create blocks of musical material . With its use of slow changing harmonies against sustained textures, where was something rather Arvo Part-inspired about the work. The title both refers to the windows of the church in Brooklyn where the work was premiered, and to a Philip Larkin poem in which the poet sums up the tumult of his youth.

Jacob Cooper's Stabat Mater Dolorosa from 2009 is inspired by Pergolesi's famous work, with Cooper taking just a moment from the older piece and stretching it out. Cooper is an American composer living in Philadelphia; he studied both music and geology at Amherst College, followed by composition at Yale. Cooper's Stabat Mater Dolorosa is not a sacred piece, and only uses a fragment of the text. Instead, Cooper is fascinated by the idea of the way we experience an extreme slowing-down of time at the moment of (near-)death. So he takes ideas from Pergolesi and slows them right down. The result is a series of sustained textures, with slow moving material underneath creating a series of shimmering chords. The two voices, Melissa Hughes and Kate Maroney, join in with this, again slow moving. The thoughtful yet intense atmosphere is further intensified by the use of microtones and pitch bending as the performers move from note to note.

The disc is complete by performances of the original works which inspired the new pieces, so we have a technically assured but somewhat effortful-sounding account of Paganini's Caprice No. 6 in G minor from Rachel Lee Priday, and the same performers who gave us Jacob Cooper's work perform the first movement of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater.

This disc is an impressive achievement, and it is a shame that we have had to wait so long for the disc. The performances by the String Orchestra of Brooklyn are technically assured, and the players bring an intensity and a fine sense of style to these two contemporary re-inventions of classical music.

Christopher Cerrone (born 1984) - High Windows (2013) [12:54]
Jacob Cooper - Stabat Mater Dolorosa (2009) [27:28]
Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840) - Caprice No. 6 in G minor 'The Trill'
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) - Stabat Mater Dolorosa (excerpt)
Argus Quartet (Jason Issokson, Clara Kim, Nathan Schram, Joann Whang)
Melissa Hughes (soprano)
Kate Maroney (mezzo-soprano)
Rachel Lee Priday (violin)
String Orchestra of Brooklyn
Eli Spindel (conductor)
Recorded 2016

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