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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 22, 2012
First of all, anyone expecting this to resemble any of violin virtuosa Hilary Hahn's previous work will be severely disappointed. However, this album does fit in very well with certain contemporary music, including a lot of other great music coming out of Iceland. Judged against this background, Hahn and Volker Bertelmann, a master of prepared piano who performs under the name Hauschka, have come up with an exciting set of recordings that pack an artistic and emotional punch.

The album was recorded at the studio of Icelandic producer Valgeir Sigurðsson, who founded the Bedroom Community record label and has frequently worked with Björk. The recording sessions for Silfra lasted ten days, and Hahn and Hauschka brought practically no material with them to the studio. They set out to create new music, and the recording process appears to have mainly been based on basic tracks recorded in joint improvisation which were then filled out with successive layers of overdubs to fill out the sound and add new dimensions.

Broadly speaking, I found two main types of music on this album: rhythmically driven tracks and slower, atmospheric pieces. Where rhythms are strong, they are often downright exuberant. Many tracks -- particularly Bounce Bounce, Adash, Draw a Map, and Sink -- are just a lot of fun. Others, such as Stillness, Ashes, and Rift, are more subdued, wistful and/or contemplative.

The centerpiece of the album, the 12-minute opus Godot, varies between searing atmospherics and edgy, often jackhammer-like percussive sounds from the prepared piano.

The most traditionally structured track is Krakow, which was the only piece of music that did not wholly originate from the Iceland sessions as Hauschka recorded the basic piano track at his home. This is a beautifully melancholy meditation on the grand but also sad Polish city of Krakow.

What does it sound like? Good question that isn't easy to answer. I'd call it post-modern and post-minimalist. I heard definite hints of minimalism, with rhythmic and melodic lines sometimes being repeated, altered and transformed along the way in a manner that could probably be traced back in spirit to Terry Riley's "In C". Adash is a great example of this type of work.

However, this is only one aspect of the album as a whole. In structure, feel and atmosphere, it has a lot of similarities with the music of producer Sigurðsson, who also plays prepared piano on some of his own solo music. Also, the use of simple, beautiful and repitive themes also suggested to me a shared sensibility with one of my favorite contemporary composer-performers, Iceland's Johann Johannsson (with whom Hauschka is actually touring in Europe this summer).

At first I thought that on most pieces the prepared piano -- a normal piano modified by objects placed on or around the strings, hammers and dampers -- was creating a rhythmic and harmonic space within which Hahn could maneuver her violin. But after listening a few more times, I realized the picture is actually much more nuanced. The division of labor between melody, harmony and rhythm is much more evenly divided between the two artists than I had realized at first.

Hahn and Hauschka have a YouTube channel, a Facebook page and a website -- so there is a lot of information and multimedia available out there to explore if you'd like to do that before making a decision. For example, there is a short documentary with interviews and in-studio footage of Hahn and Hauschka. Another is a live-animated video for "Bounce Bounce" -- the first "single" from the album. This video is an amazing artistic achievement in itself, by Brooklyn-based animator Hayley Morris. I thought I saw a few visual references to "The Nutcracker" sequence of Disney's original Fantasia.

Highly recommended, although I imagine there are people to whom this album may not appeal.
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27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2012
I'm quite fond of prepared piano and certain minimalist works, and I think Hahn is a formidable violinist. When the news about this CD reached my ears, I was excited; I like it when classical musicians record something that hasn't been recorded for a hundred times. After listening to the album, however, I have to say that I'm not that impressed.

The music is pleasant enough, with interesting acoustics, but really, what do you expect when a prepared piano is involved? I laud the musicians for doing improvisations, but I would rather listen to something carefully written out if this is all they can do with improvisations. Hauschka is quite ok, but Hahn... She's a great violinist. In the past, I had the pleasure to hear some truly great improvisations, and I have to say this is not. I feel that the music lacks a real sense of composition that gives a piece structure, that gets me return to a piece over and over again. To me the music itself is not very memorable in the first place, which is fine if it's interesting enough for repeated listening. The thing is, I don't find it interesting enough.

As for the novelty element... Barring the fact that it's done by classical musicians, there's not much new here. You can find similar sounds in many post-rock or ambient albums. If there's something that could have set Hahn and Hauschka apart from those musicians, it's that they could have given the music the level of structure that usually only musicians with classical training can achieve. But oh well... Dare I say, those musicians with much less formal training have done better.

Maybe my expectation was too high. I was hoping to hear the "Tabula Rasa" (a minimalist work written by Arvo Part in the 1980s for Gidon Kremer) of our age - not in terms of style, but in terms of inspirations and impact. Now I guess I'll just have to stick to that for some time longer.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Five INSPIRED Stars! A great musical duo. On "Silfra", Grammy-winning classical violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn and the inventive avant-garde pianist/composer Hauschka (aka Volker Bertelmann) produce exhilarating, modernist, non-conventional, totally-improvised duo performances. After two years of periodic preparatory sessions, they went to Greenhouse studio in Reykjavik, Iceland for 10 days to produce these amazing musical tone poems. "Silfra" re-introduces us to the adventuresome side of Hilary Hahn (who has performed with a beat-boxer and was last recorded with Valentina Lisitsa playing Charles Ives: Four Sonatas). And it displays Hauschka's prodigious musical acumen and his complex 'prepared piano' with its wide universe of sounds, using objects like ping-pong balls, foil, duck tape, floss, and mallets on the strings to produce sounds like cymbals, drums, clicks, continuous tones, and bell-like sounds whose pitch can be altered to startling effect. Hahn uses her wide palette of violin sounds and effects, arco and pizzicato, very inventively in this partnership. At times, one is not able to distinguish the piano from the violin. These improvisational pieces are neither classical, pop, nor jazz but something uniquely approachable and beautiful, without conventional compositional structure. The 'best of the best' begins with the lovely 1m:43s "Stillness"; the 12 minute "Godot", with Hahn creating some awesome effects over Hauschka's frameworks; the oriental-like "North Atlantic"; the more conventional beauty of "Krakow" and "Ashes"; the eerie "Halo of Honey" with freaky high register Hahn violin notes, and perhaps best of all, the swinging joy of the madcap "Bounce Bounce" and the awesome, bluesy, swinging "Draw A Map". The music is influenced greatly by the stark beauty and cultural implications of the Icelandic seascape of the "Silfra" geographical rift, near where they recorded this work. These are fascinating, propulsive, solemn or joyous pieces of cooperative sonic art created by a wonderful musical duo. Produced by Valgeir Sigurðsson. This recording is Highly Recommended. Five MARVELOUS Stars! (This review is based on NPR's "First Listen", the 5 YouTube videos, and an mp3 download of 12 tracks, Total time: 52m:22s. Hilary plays an 1864 Jean-Baptiste Villaume copy of Paganini's Cannone violin.)
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2012
I am not learned enough to bore you with a lengthy review. This disc is just what I like. Adventurous, talented musicians taking chances trying something new. I love the contrasts between pieces and between the musicians. They each benefit from the collaboration and the results show it.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2012
This series of improvisations by the duo of American classical violinist Hilary Hahn and German pianist Volker Bertelmann, known as Hauschka, is unique in more way than I can count right now. (Hauschka plays a piano prepared with various objects on the strings--as originated by John Cage in the middle of the last century.) There does not appear to be any precedent for such a collaboration--and an equal one at that. There is a long tradition of improvisation by jazz players, but there has not been much pure improvisation by classical artists since the time of Bach and Beethoven, unless you count some of the aleatory music of the 1960's avant-garde, which was quite different from this. Silfra is intended to evoke the landscape of Iceland and is the result of two years collaboration by these artists, though the music was never written out, just invented at the time of recording.

Hauschka is not a musician I know apart from this release. Hahn has had a high profile internationally and has a seemingly insatiable appetite for new music and new sounds. This project comes immediately on top of the many recent commissions she has made for short new pieces to be played as encores. On this disc one can hear a few of the extremely high notes and harmonics reminiscent of the beginnings of the wonderful concertos by Edgar Meyer and Jennifer Higdon which were written for her.

The very varied rhythms and unusual sonic effects in these improvisations can maintain one's attention and interest to the end. Most of it is quite interesting and some of it is quite beautiful.
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on December 26, 2014
I only heard one piece before I bought this (Bounce Bounce, which has a great video to go with it here: so I had only a small idea of what awaited me. I am amazed. The improvisational nature of the music makes it seem effortless and fresh; one comes away with the idea that they recorded this with huge grins on their faces while they came up with new ideas on the spot. Godot, the longest piece at 12:33 is the real star for me - it's jarring yet soothing, smooth yet ragged, and the same can be said for the whole album. Don't go in looking for Hahn's normal repertoire, just go in with an open mind and be swept along by the efforts of two marvelous musicians who played whatever popped into their head. The result is stellar, and very rewarding.
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on December 5, 2014
Really not what I expected at all. While I respect the live-studio, and largely improvised approach, it does not lend itself to easy listening. The selections are slow to develop, monotonous and none too creative. These are two great musicians who are doing little more than tinkering around together, experimenting with sounds. I wouldn't mind listening to these two experiment live in the studio, but Silfra is not something I would ever intentionally slide into my CD player.
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on April 15, 2015
It's great to hear classically-trained musicians like Hahn and Hauschka breaking the mold, crossing over, and doing something new and different. The classics are great, but let's hear it for new music. Sit back and let this wash over you. Give it the attention you first gave those classics way back in the day. You won't be disappointed.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2013
Has it really been six months since I've seen Hilary Hahn & Hauschka perform live? I can't slow the time, but I can keep the memories. It seems that just yesterday I sat in the front row, looking up at Hilary playing her violin, while Volker Bertelmann smiled from the corner behind the piano. She would get lost in her music. Her eyes closed she would bend knees and shuffle booted feet in time with the beat, moving with music in a magical dance. Occasionally she would glance at Volker, who seemed lost in percussive piano elements himself. And the two would connect, in that mysterious and curious language. One or the other would nod, and the rhythm would shift.

If you're a fan of Hauschka, as I have been since The Prepared Piano (Karaoke Kalk, 2005), then you should not be surprised. His music on Silfra maintains the staccato arrangements so prevalent in his previous works. The various wooden, plastic and metallic objects still occupy their places on the piano strings, transforming preparing the instrument for its primordial roots. But it is the slow legato melodies of Hahn's violin that tie it all together, bonding two instruments into one inseparable knot. At times the music travels back in time, reminding me of black-and-white post-war films, where piano and fiddle play in the coffee shops of Krakow.

The album [as was their concert] contains twelve semi-improvised pieces, where the two musicians feed on each other's liberties to "go anywhere we wanted within the music if we created it in an environment that allowed us the freedom and independence to explore." The environment references a geographic location near Reykjavik, Iceland, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, after which the album is named. After meeting in early 2009, Hahn and Hauschka spent ten days recording the album with no set conceptions or artistic intentions. The result is a raw chemical reaction between the two greatest musicians of our days.

"You're hearing exactly what evolved at the moment it came to life, in every second of this album. It was such a rewarding experience making the record that I get a little nostalgic when I hear it." -Hahn

What one should be impressed about is the fact that Hauschka has finally made it to Deutsche Grammophon, a prestigious German label which is dominant in the classical music community. And wait, there are more surprises. In addition to Hahn and Bertelmann, the record was produced by Valgeir Sigurðsson [yes, the same Sigurðsson of Bedroom Community who has recently released Architecture Of Loss]. The album is available on CD and vinyl, from the same label that embraced Max Richter`s entry into Recomposed series of Vivaldi - The Four Season (Deutsche Grammophon, 2012). Highly recommended!
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on June 4, 2015
This takes some getting used to, but is ultimately rewarding.
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