Misha Alperin: Her First Dance (ECM 1995)

Her First Dance

Misha Alperin
Her First Dance

Misha Alperin piano
Arkady Shilkloper French horn, flugelhorn
Anja Lechner violoncello
Recorded July 2006, Auditorio Radio Svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

After a decade-long absence, Russian pianist-composer Misha Alperin returns to ECM with his most fragrant release to date. He retains cellist Anja Lechner from the last session, Night, and rejoins his longtime ally, horn player Arkady Shilkloper. The deeper (if only for being the oldest) relationship of the two is with Shilkloper, who since 1990’s Wave Of Sorrow has been a constant companion throughout Alperin’s ECM tenure. In fact, the only piece not by Alperin on this album, “The Russian Song,” flows from Shilkloper’s pen in a lovingly arpeggiated duet for French horn and cello, with no piano between them. The remaining pieces comprise a mixed palette of solos, duos, and one trio. The latter, “Tiflis,” again features French horn, only now working a mournful charge between cells of piano and cello. It’s a stunning, lyrical voyage that works its subtle ways into the mind.

Of Alperin’s piano solos the listener is treated to a wide variety. From the tintinnabulations of “Vayan” (which veers down unexpected avenues of twilight) to the sprightly virtuosity of “Jump,” each is a transfiguration, a whirling dervish of melody. Eyes closed and heart open, Alperin passes, ghost-like, through the tenderness of “April In February” and the Bach-like grandiosity of “Via Dolorosa” with equal attention, such that each becomes a waterfall droplet made audible through slow motion.

Piano and flugelhorn make for a profound combination in the title track. Here the keyboard is distant, and the music all the more intimate because of it, as if it were being played in a chamber of the mind, personal and untouched by the outside. There is a spin and a sway to this tune, fleshed by the childhood implied by its title, by the magic of kindness that pulls flowers from the soil before the world at large can paint them with words.

Piano and cello make two somber appearances. “A New Day” turns like a ballerina in a music box, Alperin dotting the edges of Lechner’s spinal lines with light impulses of grace, while “Frozen Tears” breathes cinematic reality through a steady pulse and wavering foreground.

Together, these vignettes boil down to a beauteous representation of Alperin’s diction. Secure and sparkling, it speaks as it lives: which is to say, from the heart.

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