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If Grief Could Wait

5.0 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Audio CD, February 7, 2012
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

"If Grief Could Wait" is an intimate album of very special character, the outcome of a collaboration between harpist Giovanna Pessi and singer Susanna Wallumrød. Given impetus also by the nyckelharpa of Marco Ambrosini and Jane Achtman's viola da gamba, the project has Pessi's arrangements of Henry Purcell songs at its core. It begins with "The Plaint" (from The Fairy Queen of 1692) and continues with "If Grief Has Any Pow'r To Kill", and "O Solitude" (from The Theatre of Musick), as well as "Music For a While" (from Oedipus) and "An Evening Hymn" (from Harmonia Sacra)

But Purcell's music has never been heard quite like this. Threaded between his songs and instrumental pieces here are works of singer-songwriters Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake, as well as songs by Susanna Wallumrød herself. "If Grief Could Wait" is neither a project that adheres rigorously to ideals of historical performance practice, nor one that strives self-consciously to "cross over". Pessi and Wallumrød offer music that they love, and all of it is played with commitment by the participating musicians. Purcell and Cohen are respected on their own terms, and Susanna's pure voice and Giovanna's subtle and evocative arrangements bring continuity to the repertoire. And, as Pessi points out, Cohen and Drake songs from the last century are also, from a contemporary perspective, `old music'.

Recorded in three days in Lugano last November, this fresh-sounding album has some years of history behind it. Giovanna Pessi previously recorded for ECM with the Rolf Lislevand Ensemble (Lislevand's "Diminuito", recorded 2007/8, includes also Marco Ambrosini), and also with the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble, the hard-to-categorize group led by a `jazz' pianist but inspired by contemporary composition and folk music. Wallumrød Ensemble albums with Pessi include "The Zoo Is Far" and "Fabula Suite Lugano", recorded respectively in 2006 and 2009. It was while rehearsing in Oslo with Christian that Pessi first met the pianist's younger sister, Susanna Wallumrød, then just beginning to shape her own musical career.

Susanna subsequently invited Giovanna to play harp on one of her albums ("Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos", issued by Rune Grammofon in 2007), and when producer Manfred Eicher invited Giovanna to come up with a proposal for an ECM recording of her own, the idea of working further with Susanna's voice had become a priority. "I have played with so many `early music' singers with perfect, trained classical voices and I knew that I didn't want that kind of sound, not this time. So I asked her if she would like to try." Susanna Wallumrød had already recorded Purcell's "Dido's Lament" ("When I Am Laid In Earth") from Dido and Aeneas on one of her own albums; the musical territory was not altogether unfamiliar, but finding the appropriate approach to it was the challenge.

Both singer and harpist recognised that the project needed time, if they were to grow together musically. Pessi: "We come from such different places - Susanna with her pop music background, me with my baroque background. I needed to get closer to her feeling for rhythmic playing and singing, and she needed to develop her sense of line and phrasing. We worked a long time on preparing the material. Every time I was in Oslo - which was often when I was playing a lot with Christian - we'd get together and play, and she visited me in Switzerland also."

Susanna suggested attempting Leonard Cohen's "Who By Fire" early in the process, and Pessi countered by proposing one of her favourite Cohen songs, "You Know Who I Am". Once those had found their place in the repertoire, the way was open to add "Which Will" by the late Nick Drake, as well as "The Forester" and "Hangout" from Susanna's pen. After a year of duo rehearsals, Marco Ambrosini was added at Manfred Eicher's suggestion and Giovanna drafted in Jane Achtman, Swiss based viola da gamba player. "They both brought a lot to the music, in the depth and the movement of the lines, and underlining the baroque side of it. Marco I knew well from the Lislevand group, and I've always enjoyed working with him. Jane had previously played almost exclusively in early music contexts, but was very open to the spirit of this work."

Review

"Not quite a jazz album, this exquisite performance for voice, harp and period fiddles joins Susanna Wallumrød's light-touch singing and the evocative, interweaving lines and stately enunciation of Henry Purcell's 17th century church and theater music, some Wallumrød originals, two Leonard Cohen songs and Nick Drake's Which Will. It's a unique and audacious collaboration with baroque harpist Giovanna Pessi that has the makings of an unlikely cross-genre hit .... the quiet force of Wallumrød's personality within such a formal early-music structure is mesmerizing." -- John Fordham, The Guardian
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (February 7, 2012)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: ECM
  • ASIN: B005MASI8E
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #204,405 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
This is a strange combination of old 17th century music by Henry Purcell and the 20th century ballads by Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake as well as Susanna Wallumrod,the singer's 21 st century compositions.Harpist Pessi's arrangements of Henry Purcell songs are at the album's core.They are all rendered timeless by the early music instrumentation and Susanna's pure,understated style.The whole is given impetus by the nickelharpa of Ambrosini and Jane Achman's viola de gamba.The beauty comes from hearing the songs and instrumentation of Purcell threaded through with more modern fare of singer-songwriters.Susanna'a pure voice and Giovanna's subtle and evocative arrangements bring a continuity to the repertoire.Love of the music is shown by the commitment of the participating players.The etherial nature of the music,the musical personality given dramatic life by Purcell,subtler than anything the spoken word could achieve,the expressive power of the grief,achieved by bold harmonic effects and counterpoint.Proud fire and sacred fear.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Giovanna PESSI, Susanna WALLUMROD, Marco AMBROSINI, Jane ACHTMAN. If Grief Could Wait. ECM. (2011). $17.92. GP, baroque harp; SW, voc; MA, nyckelharpa; JA, viola da gamba.

This exceptional album is the second example this month for me of how well ECM traverses the area between straight-played classical music and creative reimaginings of them, with no loss of the music's integrity or quality of performance. I have written in an earlier posting of my admiration for ECM's 75th birthday surprise for the Georgian composer Giya Kancheli, Themes from the Songbook, with Kancheli's lovely themes for movies and plays rendered by violinist Gidon Kremer, bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi, and vibraphone player Andrei Pushkarev, in different combinations of instruments. A month or two ago, I got Lisa Smirnova's stunning 2-disc recording of Handel's harpsichord suites, performed brilliantly on piano instead of on the older instrument.

Now there is If Grief Could Wait, with the decidedly unorthodox instrumentation of soprano voice, harp, viola da gamba and an unusual late medieval instrument (14th century) from northern Europe called the nyckelharpa, a keyed fiddle which is played slung around one's neck on a strap and bowed or plucked. (Look it up on Wikipedia.)

Eight of the thirteen songs are by Purcell: six are vocals and two are for instruments only. The other songs are by `60s poet-songwriter Leonard Cohen ("Who by Fire" and "You Know Who I Am"), one by English songwriter-musician Nick Drake, who died at the age of twenty-six ("Which Will"), and two by Wallumrod. The songs mix together surprisingly well. Wallumrod has a beautiful voice, clear and plaintive. She sings the Purcell melodies differently from any other singer I have heard.
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This CD is definitely a CD for solo listening. Turn everything off, turn down the lights, and focus exclusively on this very sensitive recording to appreciate and gain for yourself the gentle repose that this CD is capable of generating. Susanna Wallumrod's beautiful voice is perfectly presented. The accompaniments have just the right weight. Highly recommended.
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This is a perfectly focused recording. Many fine individual moments together as well as working wonderfully as a whole. If you like early vocal music with the beautiful trademark ECM sound this is an excellent choice.
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