Maya Beiser, cello – “Transclassical” = Works of BACH, REED, WOLFE, HILDEGARD VON BINGEN & Others – Innova

Maya Beiser, “Transclassical” = J.S. BACH: Air; MICHAEL GORDON: All Vows; IMOGEN HEAP: Hide and Seek; GLENN KOTCHE: Three Parts Wisdom; LOU REED: Heroin; JULIA WOLFE: Emunah; MOHAMMED FAIROUZ: Kol Nidrei; DAVID T. LITTLE: Hellhound; HILDEGARD von BINGEN: O Virtus Sapientae – Maya Beiser, cello, vocal, electronics – Innova 952 [Distr. by Naxos], 65:41, (6/29/16) ****:

Marvelous cello playing in some amazing new solo rep.

Press releases have referred to Maya Beiser as the “reigning queen of avant-garde cello.”  That is probably so but this album proves definitively that not everything she plays is what most people would consider “avant-garde” and that she is, more properly, one of the world’s great young cellists in any genre right now.

All the music here is for solo cello, sometimes with vocalizations and electronics added; all done by Maya Beiser herself. The two ‘bookend’ works in this collection; the Bach and the Hildegard von Bingen, are familiar melodies played beautifully and feel fresh in this solo cello format. The real star here are the new works for solo cello written for Beiser or arranged by her. However, the clever catch to the Bach is that Beiser plays this iconic work through some electronics to have it sound as if it was the same old scratchy vinyl that she says gave her inspiration from her father’s record collection at a young age. It ends up sounding very moving; very nostalgic. Every composer here is known to me and includes names that I admire a great deal.

Michael Gordon’s All Vows is a very reflective but propulsive work that uses a lot of echo to create a larger effect than is actually present; as if it were reverberating in a church. Many listeners may consider the Imogen Heap Hide and Seek the most unusual or ‘strange’ work here but the vocalizations by Beiser, layered in three parts and gives the work an odd but rather beautiful feel. It actually reminded me a bit of the work of the great Laurie Anderson. Similar use of electronic delay and layering exists in Glenn Kotche’s Three Parts Wisdom which takes but one main cello line and develops it into seven very compelling and forward moving patterns.

The title alone of seventies “underground” vocalist Lou Reed’s Heroin is, indeed, off-putting, but David Lang’s arrangement for Maya, here, gives the definitely disturbing – yet provocative – lyrics a melodic underpinning and a sound context that truly leaves an impression. I have to admit this piece was a highlight (if you will) for me in this set.

There are three works here that, intentionally or not, have a very spiritual context and feel to them. Julia Wolfe’s Emunah is Hebrew for “faith” and more commonly refers to a conviction or perception of truth that transcends logic. Mohammed Fairouz’s Kol Nidrei is an Aramaic declaration used at the beginning of Yom Kippur (or “Kol Nidrei Night”.) Its direct translation is “all vows” – which connects very nicely to the title and tone of Michael Gordon’s piece. These two work, atmospherically at least, with the closing O Virtus Sapientae by Hildegard. I am a huge fan of both Mohammed’s work as well as Julia Wolfe’s and these two pieces are two of the best in this set.

Of the composers included here, I admit I am least familiar with David Little. His Hellhound is a near nightmare soundscape including guest vocals by Morean from “Dark Fortress” and some aggressive guitar work by Andrew McKenna Lee. The impetus for this work is a short story by Robert Johnson about a man pursued by demons. This dark tale is turned into a spell-binding experience that motivates me to find out more about David T. Little.

This is simply one of the most interesting, most stunning albums of contemporary music I have heard in a while. Maya Beiser is an amazing artist with a gift for programming and creating mood. All of the works here are fresh, compelling and – in some cases – incredible surprises. I think anyone who admires really fine cello artistry and in repertoire that is outside the main, but very rewarding, will love this album; as I do!

—Daniel Coombs

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