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“Tre Voci” = TAKEMITSU: And then I knew ‘twas wind; DEBUSSY; Sonata for flute, viola and harp; GUBAIDULINA: Garten von Freuden und Traurigkeiten – Marina Piccinini, flute/Kim Kashkashian, viola/Sivan Magen, harp – ECM New Series

“Tre Voci” = TŌRU TAKEMITSU: And then I knew ‘twas wind; CLAUDE DEBUSSY; Sonata for flute, viola and harp; SOFIA GUBAIDULINA: Garten von Freuden und Traurigkeiten – Marina Piccinini, flute/Kim Kashkashian, viola/Sivan Magen, harp – ECM New Series 2345-4810880, 51:48 [Distr. by Universal] (9/30/14)  ****:

This is a very esoteric and somewhat transcendental-sounding collection of three works by a new talented ensemble. “Tre Voci” is comprised of the Italian-American flutist Marina Piccinini, Israeli harpist Sivan Magen and the very familiar violist and contemporary music specialist Kim Kashkashian. Kashkashian, Piccinini and Magen first played together at the 2010 Marlboro Music Festival, and agreed that the potential of this combination was too great to limit it to a single season. Since then they have been developing their repertoire and this very interesting first release certainly makes me curious about what lies ahead.

Tōru Takemitsu’s And then I knew ’twas wind takes its title from an Emily Dickinson poem that invokes the Biblical imagery of Elijah being lifted up on a “wheel of clouds”. I have always liked Takemitsu’s music for its delicate shimmering textures and very spare but evocative melodies. Jűrg Stenzl’s very helpful booklet notes remind us that in Japanese music; unlike that of the West, there are but two main aspects to music: timbre and tone quality. This really is a lovely meditative work that has an undertone of the uneasy, much like all of Dickenson’s poetry.

Claude Debussy wrote his Sonata for flute, viola and harp in 1915. At the time, Debussy himself had been studying the music of Eastern cultures and with works like this was experimenting with different tone color and creative use of time and tempo. Like all Debussy, this piece is filled with delicate beauty. The opening “Pastorale” alone is worth paying attention to.

In many ways, all music by the Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina is quite a different deal. Garten von Freuden und Traurigkeiten (Garden of Joy and Sorrow) was written in 1980 and bears some things in common with her other works but also represents a bit of departure for the composer. Gubaidulina’s music has always held, for me, an exotic and somewhat unsettling sound with unusual instrumentations and extended techniques. In this work, though, there is an intentional attention to structure, with what other reviewers call a “numerical mysticism.” The title comes from a poem by the Russian poet Iv Oganov who, in turn, was writing about the legendary singer and poet Sayat Nova. “Garden of Joy and Sorrow” contains an optional recitation of a poem by Francisco Tanzer at the very end, posing the very thought-laden lines “When is it all over? What is the true end?…”  In a way, I have never had a lot of patience with music that contains symbolism within symbolism and lots of references that might be a bit obscure. Gubaidulina’s work does do such things fairly often but the sound is ultimately all that matters and I find most of her music to be quite interesting.

I am not familiar with the other recordings of any of these works, as a web search indicates there are some. I do know I enjoyed these three and I certainly enjoy the performances. I think to most listeners, the Debussy will, of course, seem the most accessible and listeners may or may not like the Gubaidulina (in particular) but this is fine new and unusual trio and I look forward to more recordings from Tre Voci and the always splendid ECM studios.

—Daniel Coombs

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