Theremin Sonatas – Original Works for Theremin & Piano – Carolina Eyck, Theremin/ Christopher Tarnow, piano – CD with a single video – Genuin Classics

Theremin Sonatas – Original Works for Theremin & Piano – Carolina Eyck, Theremin/ Christopher Tarnow, piano – Audio CD with a single video track – Genuin Classics 15363, 56:41 (10/9/15) [Distr. by Naxos] **:

Four Theremin sonatas well-played, but I suspect uncomfortable for many listeners.

The Theremin is not a neutral instrument. People instantly recognize its ‘science fiction sound’ because it was over-used in a lot of low-budget films. The instrument was invented in 1928, and perhaps was noticed seriously by the public in films like Spellbound and The Lost Weekend. It acquired its science fiction reputation in the classic Day the Earth Stood Still.

The instrument’s controlling section usually consists of two metal antennas that sense the relative position of the Thereminist’s hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude (volume) with the other. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker. There is no physical contact between the soloist and the instrument.

On this disc we get four Theremin sonatas written by Christopher Tarnow. The Theremin soloist is Carolina Eyck, with Tarnow at the piano. The Theremin can have a wide range of sounds, sometimes sounding like an electronic violin, at other times like a flying saucer. In these sonatas we get a pretty full sample of what the instrument can do.

I like the music when the Theremin is a bit subtle. But in some places, like the first movement of the Sonata for Theremin and Piano No. 2 things go pretty far off the rails for my taste, and the music gets just uncomfortable and dissonant. But the next movement of the sonata is lovely. The contrasts make the disc a bit of an effort to listen to, at least for my sensibilities.

Still, there is no denying the talent involved. Years ago I was given a Theremin as a gift. It’s incredibly difficult to play, and getting true control of the instrument, as Ms. Eyck has, is no small task. Who would like this disc? Lovers of the avant-garde, open-minded lovers of contemporary music, and Theremin groupies.

The musicianship is of very high quality. The recording is quite good. The instrument is captured accurately, and the stereo image is solid.

One bonus on the disc is a video track with a wonderful explanation by Ms. Eyck of the Theremin and its qualities. It’s a very worthwhile segment to view, but you’ll need a computer CD drive to watch it. While I appreciated the effort, and compositions, this is just not a disc I could sit through repeatedly. Others will find it fascinating.

—Mel Martin

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