Dokaz violom da je muzika kroz stoljeća samo-slična, rekurzivna.
In the liner notes accompanying his solo debut, Nicholas Cords writes that “these works individually and collectively exemplify the inimitable qualities of the viola's sound world, highlighting its dulcet and melancholic voice while also showing that the instrument is capable of a broad palette of expression.” Truer words were never spoken, and characterizing the instrument's voice as “dulcet and melancholic” strikes me as a near-perfect way of capturing the instrument's special tone. Cords, also known as a founding member of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider and Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, includes works by Biber, Hindemith, Rubbra, Hovhaness, and Stravinsky on the album as well as a self-composed original.
Though Recursions is a true solo work in featuring the playing of Cords only, he sometimes uses multi-tracking to generate multiple patterns within a given piece. The material doesn't only extend through time either (to the seventeenth century, specifically), but also travels widely in geographic terms, with Cords making stops in Ireland and Armenia and touching down in the Byzantine era, too. For Cords, the album's unifying thread can be found in his having selected pieces that operate on the principle of repeating musical cells.
The plaintive character of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber's “Passacaglia” is so affecting, the work's 1676 date of origin becomes nothing more than a mildly interesting historical detail. Somewhat similar in mood are the Irish traditional “Pórt Na BPúcaí,” which is as engrossing a lament as Biber's opener, Edmund Rubbra's “Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn ‘O Quando E Cruce,' Op. 117,” which, though composed in 1964, is as timeless as the two pieces preceding it, and, naturally, Stravinsky's 1944 piece “Élégie.” The recording also features renditions of Alan Hovhaness's brooding meditation “Chahagir, Op. 56a” and concludes with Paul Hindemith's four-part “Sonata for solo viola, Op. 11, #5” (1923).
Cords expresses reticence in describing himself as a composer, but on that count he needn't worry: “Five Migrations” is a more-than-legitimate contribution to the album, especially when it begins with a plaintive theme that could as easily have graced one of the other works. If anything, the piece finds him exploring the multi-tracking concept on Recursions to perhaps the fullest degree; by the time the closing part “Landing” appears, Cords seems to have become an entire orchestra section.
His impeccable command is evident throughout (for proof, consider the acrobatic runs in the Hindemith passacaglia), with the violist using his considerable technique to bring forth the emotional richness of the works presented. It's a testament to the recording's quality and Cords' artistry that its status as a solo viola project quickly recedes into the background and one's attention instead shifts purely to the music. And though it's presumably not designed to be heard as such, Recursions nevertheless acts as a wonderful stage-setter for Brooklyn Rider's upcoming album, A Walking Fire. - Textura
Violists don’t usually play solo. It’s rarer still that a violist puts out a solo recording, considering the relative paucity of solo works for the instrument. But Brooklyn Rider’s brilliant Nicholas Cords - “The Sheriff” to his string quartet bandmates – has just released his solo debut, Recursions. Inspired by the theoretical glimpse into the infinite – some would say the supernatural – created by setting two mirrors face to face, the album explores repetitive patterns from across the ages. In so doing, Cords potentially puts himself on the hot seat in terms of sustaining interest. And he pulls it off – as he reminds in the liner notes, with repetition comes familiarity and then insight. Not only is this a very comforting album, it’s sonically gorgeous: the natural reverb at the “Orchard” where it was recorded enhances the music’s often otherworldly quality.
Cords opens with a Heinrich Biber passacaglia (postlude to the composer’s 1676 Rosary Sonatas), variations on a simple four-chord descending progression, hypnotic yet dynamically-charged, with subtle rhythmic shifts and a resilient sostenuto. A violin piece that’s translated well to the viola, it sets the stage for the rest of the record.
Cords’ trance-inducing, marvelously ambient arrangement of the Irish traditional tune Port Na BPucai follows. Edmund Rubbra’s Meditations on the Byzantine Hymn O Quando El Cruce works its way methodically from an oddly Celtic-sounding pulse to vibrant pizzicato chromatics, suspensefully crescendoing, insistent motives and then a rapt calm. Alan Hovhaness’ Chahagir (Armenian for torchbearer) is plaintive and haunting, emotionally what one would expect from the year 1945 – although it has a baroque tinge – Cords loosening his vibrato and letting the phrases linger. His own multitracked suite Five Migrations builds a series of looped melodies: an echoing Kayhan Kalhor-esque miniature; slow wary circles spiced with edgy doublestops; and Middle Eastern allusions (no surprise considering Cords’ long association with the Silk Road Ensemble).
Cords achieves cello-like lows throughout a tersely brooding take of Stravinsky’s Elegie for Solo Viola. The album closes with Hindemith’s Sonata for Solo Viola, its somewhat peevish motives getting a lively bit of Bartokian agitation and moving from there through bracing morosity, jauntiness and austerity. Who is the audience for this album? Anyone with a taste for quiet, contemplative sounds with an edge. - Lucid Culture
You are standing between two mirrors. You turn to face one and are confronted with infinitely repeating reflections of yourself: this is one kind of recursion. Another type is when there is a picture on the cover a book showing someone holding a book, which has a picture of the same person holding the same book, and on and on, ad infinitum. In math and technology recursions are also related to fractals, in which the part is identical to the whole at any scale. Recursions is also the name of the debut solo album by violist Nicholas Cords.
That's a lot of mental baggage to put into the title of a record. Perhaps it is Cords's way of nudging his listeners to the realization that the music within is, despite spanning centuries and continents, self-similar. His selections certainly make full use of the viola's dark-hued tones and rich timbre. The music is emotional, sometimes almost anguished, and often filled with broad strokes rather than virtuosic details - although the playing is flawless, as you would expect from a member of both groundbreaking string quartetBrooklyn Rider and Yo Yo Ma's globe trotting Silk Road Ensemble. Recursive though it may be, there is nothing repetitive about this album.
The opening track, Heinrich Biber's Passacaglia, has a haunting, almost medieval air, despite being composed in 1676, and leads perfectly into Port Na BPucai (the music of the fairies), a traditional Irish theme arranged by Cords. In barely 14 minutes we have traveled from Baroque Salzburg to a timeless Irish past, finding commonality of feeling between the two. The Biber piece is part of a larger work, the Rosary Sonatas, which details the life of Mary in 15 settings but if there is any irony in setting it beside "fairy music," you won't find it here.
British composer Edmund Rubbra's Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn 'O Quando E Cruces' from 1964 follows, and another theme emerges, that of translations and transcriptions. The Biber work, after all was originally written for violin and the Irish tune is often played on the uilleann pipes. Like Biber, Rubbra draws on the monophony of medievalism before moving into some decidedly un-hymn like dance rhythms, sometimes plucked or strummed in an almost off-kilter fashion. This is no intellectual exercise, however - there is a mood of exploration that carries you through.
Armenian folk tunes are the basis for Alan Hovhaness's Chahagir (1945), one of only two American works on the album. There is no cheap exoticism contained in the piece; rather it is a passionate essay that fully respects the composer's Armenian roots. Cords's playing is fiery, but always in control.
The next piece, Five Migrations, composed by Cords's himself, totals just over seven minutes yet is the heart of the collection, drawing together all the themes and variations contained within. An overview:
- Timegate (:51) Multitracking allows Cords to play a spacy melody over his own ostinato.
- Stilted Reverie (:48) Combines scrapes, drones and an eastern-tinged tune.
- Anachronism (2:07) A subtle glitchy undertone supports a song of shadowed sunshine.
- Labyrinth (:56) Fractured plucking and strumming adds up to a neat little machine of sound.
- Landing (2:21) The most obviously recursive work here, this is like a folk song in the form of a round and is reminiscent of Penguin Cafe Orchestra.
Five Migrations is an exciting and detailed piece, full of intriguing possibilities. The last section segues naturally into Stravinsky's brief Elegie (1944), which is somber and reflective, providing an apt antechamber for the closing piece, Paul Hindemith's Sonata for solo viola, Op 11, #5 from 1923. Astringent, sometimes almost angry, Hindemith's music here seems to be pointing out something that is glaringly obvious to him but unseen by the rest of us. There is some very dense writing in the sonata, with the occasional flashy run, and Cords dispatches the many challenges with bite and flair. This is a fairly early work by Hindemith, composed before he was 30, but Cords finds a through-line and a maturity of conception that other recordings seem to have missed. It's not an immediately welcoming composition, but repeated listening reveals much to engage with.
Hindemith's final movement is called In Form und Zeitmass einer Passacaglia, which loosly translates as "in the form and correct timing of a passacaglia." Not only is this yet another instance of a composer drawing on and translating from another time and place, it also snaps us right back to where we started, with that earlier Germanic passacaglia.
The word "passacaglia" derives from Spanish words meaning "to walk the street," but what Nicholas Cords has given us on Recursions is no mere stroll but a full-on excursion through times, time, and places. Book your ticket. - anearful.blogspot.com/
Have you ever observed the seemingly infinite reflections of yourself when standing between two parallel mirrors? This phenomenon of self-similar repetition is an example of recursion, which can be observed in nature and also has broad applications in the sciences. Seeing connections to the discipline of playing the viola and its repertoire, I was inspired to use the concept of recursion as a guiding metaphor for this project.
Practicing is often regarded by musicians as a necessary evil, but there is also a mantra-like quality embedded in this quotidian ritual; repetition engrains the music deeply in both mind and body, leading to deeper levels of understanding. And so, for any given phrase heard by an audience, a performer undergoes hundreds of prior repetitions which are invisibly informing that moment. The process of making a solo recording similarly requires an intense level of scrutiny. Putting myself under a microscope in this manner presented a qualitatively different challenge than I typically experience in ensemble settings, my most familiar musical habitat. Extending the circle wider, if engaging in the process of discovery is invaluable to the performer, it is also possible for the listener to benefit from a recording in a similar way; repeated listening allows new facets of the music to be continually revealed.
As far as the music itself, identifying pieces which thrive on the self-similar repetition of musical cells (through devices like theme and variations, passacaglias, rhythmic and melodic looping, binary form, etc.) was one of the unifying principles behind the choice of repertoire on this recording. Our generation as a whole is already receptive to the interplay of musical patterns. After all, we are surrounded by the various loops found in pop and minimalist music, not to mention those occurring in the digital and mechanical soundscape of modern life. But repetition is obviously not a recent musical invention, having been utilized across the ages and in countless traditions globally. Perhaps in earlier times this practice evolved as a way to make music easily memorable and familiar? Whatever the case, there is a sense that the music on this recording is as compelling to behold on a cellular level as it is in the sum of the parts.
Given the above, I wanted to present a program that spanned broadly across history. But certain other unifying threads appeared as the process evolved. These works exemplify the special quality of the viola's sound world, highlighting the inimitable characteristics of it's dulcet and melancholic voice. But at the same time, they demonstrate that the viola is a mutable instrument, capable of a broad palette of expression. Recurring throughout this recording is also a sense of journey, real or imagined. Pórt Na BPúcaí conjures a fairies' lament originating from the Blasket Islands off the West coast of Ireland, Chahagir (torchbearer in Armenian) sends us on a spiritual trek to Armenia, and Rubbra's Meditations travel across time to the Byzantine era. And going beyond a sense of physical place, all of these works vitally engage the imagination as a vehicle to transcend the everyday. Stravinsky's ephemeral Élégie for solo viola brilliantly succeeds in creating a transportive listening experience.
Recursions begins and ends with passacaglias by two great composer-performers. Biber was a gifted violinist and this passacaglia, a solo postlude to his Rosary Sonatas for violin and continuo from 1676, represents possibly the greatest solo violin work before Bach. It's dark hued modality and intricate figurations transfer sympathetically to the viola. Hindemith, primarily remembered today as a composer, was also a leading violist of his day whose legacy of works for the viola have been lovingly embraced by subsequent generations. Their examples, along with others, have inspired me to throw my own hat into the ring.
In Biber's day, distinctions between composers and performers were not common. By the time Hindemith arrived on the scene, such musicians were becoming increasingly rare. The mid-twentieth century even witnessed a period of outright antagonism between the two sides. I am reluctant to describe myself as a composer, but putting Five Migrations out in the world felt like a useful way to counter that sense of reticence. And as it turns out, a lifetime spent with the instrument under my ear combined with experiences gleaned from an itinerant lifestyle have contributed a fairly useful store of creative fodder. It seems to me that one of the best ways we can keep our tradition relevant is if performers learn to re-embrace the fertile terrain between interpretation and creation. Though we may ultimately fail to create on the level of Biber and Hindemith, we certainly become more empathetic musicians in the process. At the very least, we end up with works that better reflect ourselves and our environment. - Nicholas Cords
Recursions track listings (ICR 006):
1. Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, trans. Lebermann - Passacaglia (postlude to the Rosary Sonatas, 1676) 8'39"
2. Irish traditional, arr. Nicholas Cords (after Martin Hayes) - Pórt Na BPúcaí 5'08"
3. Edmund Rubbra - Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn 'O Quando E Cruce,' Op. 117 (1964) 10'19"
4. Alan Hovhaness - Chahagir, Op. 56a (1945) 5'52"
5-9. Nicholas Cords - Five Migrations (2012) 7'05"
6. Stilted Reverie
10. Igor Stravinsky - Élégie (1944) 5'43"
11-14. Paul Hindemith - Sonata for solo viola, Op. 11, #5 (1923)
11. Lebhaft, aber nicht geeilt 3'06"
12. Mäßig schnell, mit viel Wärme vortragen 4'39"
13. Schnell. Viel langsamer, gesangvoll 3'29"
14. In Form und Zeitmass einer Passacaglia 9'08"