Giovanni Pessi / Susanna Wallumrod: If Grief Could Wait
If Grief Could Wait
Manfred Eicher's Edition of Contemporary Music label (aka ECM) has three creative foci: "classical" music, jazz and folk music. The last of these is often overlooked in discussions of ECM, but folk music, particularly that of the colder European climes, makes up a potent part of the company's catalog. These three foci do not exist separately from one another. Instead, they rub against each other, mixing at the interfaces. It is in these interfaces that Eicher practices his brilliant alchemy. Eicher has made a cottage industry out of challenging artists to think outside their boxes, often directly and often by bringing musicians from his different foci together for collaborations. More often than not this approach has paid off very well.
The fruits of Eicher's cross-pollinating approach can be heard throughout the history of the label. Beginning in the Hilliard Ensemble project with saxophonist Jan Garbarek, Officium (1994), and continuing with Mnemosyne (1999) and Officium Novum (2010), medieval chant meets ethereal reed tones. Former Hilliard tenor John Potter celebrated the music of John Dowland with saxophonist John Surman on In Darkness Let Me Dwell (1999) and Care-Charming Sleep (2003). And the Norwegian ensemble Trio Mediaeval mixes up polyphony on Folk Songs (2007) and A Worchester Ladymass (2011).
This probing tradition is continued in the coupling of Baroque harpist Giovanna Pessi / Susanna Wallumrod with Norwegian popular singer/songwriter Susanna Wallumrod, performing a recital of mostly Henry Purcell (1659-1695) with some interesting surprises thrown in. Eicher approached Pessi about this, asking her to to develop a project of her own after hearing her perform on Rolf Lislevand's Diminuito (2008) and Christian Wallumrod's The Zoo is Far (2006) and Fabula Suite Suite Lugano (2009). Pessi then approached Wallumrød's younger sister, Susanna, whith whom she had recorded the far-reaching Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos (Rune Grammofon, 2007) about a Purcell project, employing specifically Wallumrød's classically-untrained voice in a more chamber-parlor setting.
The result of this collaboration is a collection of Purcell songs broken up by two Leonard Cohen compositions, a Nick Drake song and two pieces by Wallumrød. There is a certain kinship among of the music that makes it all immediately accessible, and perhaps more so than a straight classical recital, because of the more contemporary pieces. The Purcell songs are similar in character to John Dowland's (1563-1626) a generation previous. The recital is seasoned by the presence of Jane Achtman playing the traditional Baroque viol de gamba and Marco Ambrosini adding the nyckelharpa (a Swedish keyed fiddle), giving the pieces a rural, organic flavor. Wallumrød's own compositions act as the adhesive holding together this creatively unlikely song assembly. The artistry revels in Wallumrød's understated vocals, deceptively rendered as simple among the majesty of the period instrumentation. The entire package hangs together as a fragile yet defiant creative web.
Tracks: The Plaint; Who By Fire; If Grief Has Any Pow'r to Kill; The Forester; A New Ground; You Know Who I Am; Hangout; O Solitude; Which Will; A New Scotch Tune; Music for a While; A New Scotch Tune, Var.; An Evening Hymn.
Personnel: Giovanna Pessi: baroque harp; Susanna Wallumrød: voice; Jane Achtman: viola da gamba; Marco Ambrosini: nyckelharpa.