This is an beautiful album. The main attraction is the world premiere recording of Serere (2012) by James B. Maxwell in two versions separated by a shorter piece by Nico Muhly. Ravello Records brings us a wonderful Canadian duo, Couloir consisting of Ariel Barnes on cello and Heidi Krutzen on harp.
Maxwell, a Canadian composer, is new to this writer but the present work suggests that there is good reason to pay attention to this artist. I’m not sure of the wisdom of two versions of the same piece on one disc but it does allow for close comparison. It is basically an intimate and episodic piece of chamber music which is filled out with some electroacoustic material in the second version. I don’t mean to sound dismissive because this is an engaging and enjoyable listen and a piece which seems to contain a certain depth and wisdom which suggests a well crafted work. Both versions are clearly challenging from a technical aspect but all seems to be integrated in service of the music and not simply empty effects. The second version of course has a fuller sound due to the augmentation of the electronics. Both versions benefit from multiple listens and I certainly don’t intend to set this disc aside for a bit.
This is actually my first encounter with Nico Muhly’s work. I have certainly heard of him but I am not familiar with any of his other work so I have nothing against which to compare the present piece except in the context of this disc. Given that, this briefer piece, Clear Music (2003) is also finely wrought and engaging. Maryliz Smith plays celeste on this track. It functions basically as an interlude here but it does help clear the palate (so to speak) without taking the listener too far out of the musical context.
The recording from 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia is clear and pleasant and the performances are simply wonderful.