Sunday 28 December 2014

A unique and rewarding disc of Improvisations for Theremin and Piano, full of invention and strange sounds from theremin virtuoso Carolina Eyck and pianist Christopher Tarnow from Butterscotch Records

My copy of Groves gives a concise description of the theremin stating that it is a monophonic electronic instrument developed in the USSR by Lev Termen (known in the West as Léon Theremin) and first demonstrated by him in 1920. It operates on the principle of heterodyning two radio frequency oscillators and is customarily played by moving the hands to and fro in mid-air before two antennae, one controlling pitch, the other volume.

German-born musician and composer Carolina Eyck is one of the world’s foremost theremin virtuosi. After her debut in the Berlin Philharmonic, she has been invited to the Bohuslav Martinu International Music Festival in Basel, the Davos Festival (Switzerland), the Konzerthaus Berlin, the Großes Festspielhaus Salzburg (Austria), the Teatro Nacional Lisbon (Portugal) and the Palace of Arts Budapest (Hungary). She has given concerts in Poland, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Sweden, Finland, Great Britain, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, Hungary, Pakistan, Turkey and the United States.

She has collaborated with Heinz Holliger, Robert Kolinsky, Gerhard Oppitz, Andrey Boreyko, Michael Sanderling, Gürer Aykal, John Storgårds, the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Bern Symphony Orchestra, the Essen Philharmonic Orchestra, the Brandenburg State Orchestra, the Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra, the Lapland Chamber Orchestra, the Heidelberg Symphonic Orchestra and the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg.

In 2012, Carolina Eyck played the theremin solo at the world premiere of the two symphonies by Fazil Say, Mesopotamia and Universe. Finnish composer Kalevi Aho dedicated his Theremin Concerto to her which she premiered in 2012 and since recorded on BIS Records.

Besides her engagements in the area of classical and contemporary music, Carolina Eyck loves composing and improvising, something that features on her new recording for Butterscotch Records entitled Improvisations for Theremin and Piano, where she is joined by pianist and composer Christopher Tarnow

CD, Vinyl, Digital, HiRes

To get a better idea of the techniques used when playing the theremin Carolina Eyck can be seen playing the instrument on a YouTube video below:  

The first piece, entitled Earth and Sky, emerges as a long held high note to which harmonies are added and a slight wavering of pitch. Soon the piano joins with strong deep chords to which the theremin adds occasional lower notes whilst sustaining the higher ones. There develop some rising theremin passages with greater textures before the theremin and piano rise up, the theremin remaining extremely high as the piano strikes low chords and the work ends much as it began.

The piano opens A Somber Waking with a rolling theme to which the theremin adds deep resonant sounds creating a forward moving atmospheric pulse. The theremin varies its theme much during the course of the improvisation with little sighing phrases and a rising and falling motif. There are some extremely fine passages as the piece draws to a conclusion.

The piano provides languid chords to open 10,000 Bells with a delicate bell like rhythm and resonance. The theremin subtly adds its sound, a distant, spacious sound high up. The combination of the piano and resonating theremin is quite beautiful and mesmerising with Christopher Tarnow providing some lovely rippling piano phrases before the piece draws to its gentle close.

With A Whale in love the whale appears in the guise of the theremin that brings deep rising and falling sounds before the piano enters providing a gentle accompaniment. Slowly and subtly the theremin moves into a theme that follows the piano chords, rising up and becoming more intense. Towards the end the theremin falls lower and fades at the end.

A flourish from the piano opens Dancing Fairy with a series of spread chords developing a theme. The piano falls lower and the theremin can be heard, sounding quietly at first, with a little motif consisting of whistling and pulsating sounds, strange little points of sound. The piano maintains an overall structural theme before the pulsating sound of the theremin begins to dominate with a rising and falling motif over lovely rippling chords from the piano.  Soon strange wild sounds emanate from the theremin against a sustained piano theme before the theremin develops a deeper more resonant, rather mournful theme against the sustained piano theme.  Little twittering and calling sounds re-appear against the insistent piano motif, as if creating the sounds of nature, before the piece ends.

This is a very creative and intoxicating piece.

Quiet Snowfall opens with an organ like sonority from the theremin to which the piano adds a little motif. The theremin sounds rise and fall with rhythmic changes from the piano as it develops its motif becoming more decorated as the theremin provides an ever shifting sonority. As the piano rises to its highest register the theremin fades, concluding gently.

Deep in the Earth brings deep crackling and resonating theremin sounds that stop and start, punctuated by a percussive piano contribution. This rises to a thunderous resonance as the piano slowly and carefully develops a theme creating something of a primeval sound world, strikingly effective.  Slowly and inexorably the theremin rises up higher, holding a note over piano chords to conclude.

A rocking piano theme opens Haunted Ballerina as slowly the sound of the theremin appears, dropping suddenly to deeper resonant sounds. The theremin weaves a grumbling, low theme around the insistent piano motif creating a sense of a haunted dance. Soon the piano breaks up the insistent theme, varying it and giving more of a pulse with a forward drive. The music slows with a pulsating theremin sound before  becoming more dynamic with a ghostly louder theme as the theremin imitates the piano theme, both driving the music forward. The music becomes ever more frantic with wild theremin sounds that eventually fade a little as the piano returns to its opening insistent rhythm, the theremin fading out and the piano becoming more insistent before easing to a sudden halt.

This is something of a unique and rewarding disc, full of invention and strange sounds. Both artists provide first rate performances showing an incredible ability to improvise. Carolina Eyck produces many varied sonorities and individual sounds from the theremin. I will certainly be investigating her recording of the Aho concerto.

The recording in my download handles the wide range of sounds of the theremin, occasionally resonant and deep, extremely well. 

1 comment:

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