Tre Voci: Takemitsu/Debussy/Gubaidulina (ECM New Series 2345)

Tre Voci

Tre Voci

Marina Piccinini flute
Kim Kashkashian viola
Sivan Magen harp
Recorded April 2013, Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

When is it really over? What is the true end? All borders are as if with a stick of wood or with the heel of a shoe driven into the earth. Until then…here is the border. All that is artificial. Tomorrow we’ll play another game.
–Francisco Tanzer, trans. J. Bradford Robinson

Tre Voci are violist Kim Kashkashian, flutist Marina Piccinini, and harpist Sivan Magen. Following a 2010 debut at the Marlboro Music Festival, the trio solidified its identity as such and came to ECM with this program of three works. Although disparate in geographical origin, each connects to the others by instrumentation and, above all, integrity of spirit. More than the unique combination, however, it is the supreme, interlocking level of ability in each musician that makes this disc such a pleasure to behold.

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The program opens with the reflection of a reflection: And then I knew ’twas Wind by Tōru Takemitsu (1930-1996). The Japanese composer’s illustrative genius is in full effect in this garden of painterly delights, from its opening sprinkle of raindrops to its closing fractals of coincidence. Although the instruments are inseparable partners in the worlding of this piece, and must be equally attuned to what Jürg Stenzl in his liner notes calls the “almost calligraphic precision” of Takemitsu’s score, the harpist must be especially aware of the palette at hand. Magen articulates a veritable ecosystem of harmonics, glissandi (produced by sliding a fingernail along a string), and timbral variations. One can almost feel the quiver of leaves shedding the weight of raindrops in the afterglow of a storm. From this scene, flute and viola emerge not like the fauna of stereotypical impressionism, but rather like the flora drinking in all the nourishment. The viola becomes, then, a natural navigational instrument, a magnetized sliver in a forested compass. Despite sounding sometimes like a single player, for the most part Kashkashian and Piccinini walk their solitary paths. Like some bucolic dream gone dark, however, not all is sunshine and roses, as emphasized by the distinctive pathos of their interpretation. Here is the leaf magnified, revealing infinite others within.

Given Takemitsu’s admiration for Claude Debussy (1862-1918), the latter’s Sonata for flute, viola and harp makes for a most suitable companion. As Debussy’s penultimate composition (succeeded only by the Sonata for violin and piano) before he succumbed to cancer, it shows both maturity and vulnerability. Over the course of three distinct yet interconnected parts, it develops with such tactile beauty that one is hard-pressed to find a hook of any size from which to hang an ornament of criticism. Part I opens in a river’s flow such as only Debussy can devise. With their unpretentious, relaxed treatment thereof, Tre Voci quickly overturn the notion that impressionism equals lack of clarity. The flute blends into the viola, and together they empty into a vivid ocean. Part II is recognizable by its cyclical motifs. If the first was an awakening, this is nature in the raw. Part III rests on a fulcrum of harp, teetering atop some of the trio’s subtlest descriptions, and the tipping point of its sportive, declamatory ending would be echoed 11 years later (1926) in Manuel de Falla’s Concerto for harpsichord, flute, oboe, clarinet, violin and cello. If anything, this sonata is about physics, as is the piece that follows.

Sofia Gubaidulina’s Garten von Freuden und Traurigkeiten (Garden of Joys and Sorrows) is this album’s crowning achievement. The progression of its introductions quivers with sobering anxiety until the trio’s dynamic range is nearly exhausted. The viola tends toward harmonic whispers, while harp and flute take more direct routes toward their melodic destinations. This is not to say that the piece is a goal-oriented one. Rather, it thrives on the value of distortion. Much like Gubaidulina’s quartets it favors skeleton over muscle, and through the creaking of its joints seeks harmony in ashen reveries and broken things. It ends with a recitation, in German, of a poem by Francisco Tanzer: not the universe in a raindrop, but a raindrop in the universe.

(To hear samples of Tre Voci, click here.)

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