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As her hands dance around the instrument's antennas, Lydia Kavina proves the theremin is no mere producer of Hollywood sound effects. Russian theremin virtuoso Kavina presents the first release EVER dedicated solely to original compositions for the instrument - spanning the "golden age" of the theremin from its invention in the 1920s to contemporary works. One of the first attempts to unite music and scientific technology in the 20th century, the theremin is considered to be the ancestor of modern electronic musical instruments. Its evolution from scientific curiosity (discussed in scientific journals and manufactured by RCA) to virtuoso classical instrument (played by Clara Rockmore in Carnegie Hall) to "instrument of the future" (according to Cage, Varse, Grainger and others) to Hollywood sound effect (played in soundtracks to Spellbound, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Lost Weekend, etc.) to rock-and-roll instrument (used by The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Phish, Portishead and others) has been well documented. This disc is full of discoveries, including Martinu's Fantasia, and Percy Grainger's graphically notated Free Music #1 (1935) for 4 theremins, along with other "period" works by Schillinger (known for his writings on music and as a guru to composers from Gershwin to Earle Brown) and Isidor Achron (the accompanist to Heifetz). Modern works are represented by Kavina herself, Brazilian Jorge Antunes (with electronic tape) and Russian Vladimir Komarov, whose work also incorporates the inventor's voice and a rendition of Glinka's infamous The Lark, which Theremin had performed for Lenin to demonstrate the instrument. Lydia Kavina is the world's leading thereminist today. The granddaughter of Leon Theremin's first cousin, she was the inventor's last protge. She began studying the instrument with him at the age of nine, and was concertizing by age fourteen. Since then, Kavina has given over 500 performances. She has also appeared in Howard Shore's soundtracks to eXistenZ and the Oscar-winning movie Ed Wood, and has performed in the Tom Waits/Robert Wilson collaborations Alice and The Black Rider. Kavina now serves on the lecture staff of The Glinka Museum and is affiliated with the Theremin Center, both in Moscow.
The theremin may be one of the oddest instruments ever invented: the electronic device's high-pitched sound resembles no other--and you never even touch it to play it. It's become familiar from that novel Beach Boys solo on "Good Vibrations" and the occasional sci-fi score sound bite, but it's seldom thought of as the serious instrument its inventor Leon Theremin wanted it to be. This recording, like the must-have Clara Rockmore disc, The Art of the Theremin, attempts to change that. Lydia Kavina might very well be the best thereminist playing today; she's the inventor's last protégée (as well as being the granddaughter of his cousin) and her range on the instrument is unparalleled. Here, she tackles the body of work made specifically for the instrument from the likes of Joseph Schillinger, Bohuslav Martinu, Percy Grainger, Isidor Achron, and a handful of contemporary composers. Grainger's "Free Music #1" for four theremins eerily defies the bounds of written composition (Kavina plays all four theremin roles); Kavina's own Suite is an impressive showpiece of the instrument's range; and Vladimir Komarov's tape-and-theremin piece "Voice of Theremin" is built entirely of passages from the instrument and the voice of Theremin himself, all processed through a computer with stunning results. Martinu's Fantasia for Theremin, Oboe, Piano, and Strings is the disc's real charm: a 14-minute composition with plenty of oboe-theremin interplay and lovely string passages from the Portland String Quartet. For the classical fan who has everything, this disc may be the perfect gift. --Jason Verlinde
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Kavina's use of the Theremin is much more effective than Clara Rockmore's. While Rockmore's recordings show skill and ability, I cannot imagine anyone saying "yes, the Theremin is the ideal instrument" for the music on Rockmore's album. Speaking as an electronic musician who loves to explore the frontiers of music, I feel that under Rockmore the Theremin's appeal was more for its curiosity than for its appropriateness to the music.
With Lydia Kavina we have a different situation entirely. The music is ideal for the Theremin, and many of the compositions (particularly Kavina's) have real emotional power. I cannot imagine these pieces played with any other instrument (besides a synthesizer programmed to sound like a theremin).
Lydia Kavina is exploring a new musical space, appropriate to the Theremin. This album gives a fine sampling of that space, hopefully hinting at more to come.
In contrast to the soothing nature of the piece" Fantasia", the last piece in the album, "Voice Of Theremin", appeared to be something totally different. Rather than using the theremin with the orchestral ensemble through out the piece, the piece appeared to ensemble the usual ideal of computer/ electrical music most of the time. The use of a bird singing as well as the human voices in the piece also brings about much resemblance of the style of music, musique concrete, a style that takes common noises from the real world and applying it on musical compositions. With the addition of tape work, the pieces sounded like and resembled much of the characteristics that one can find in the computer music of the 1960s with the application of synthesizer and sequencer. For almost two thirds of the piece, the main rhythm did not seem to have existed neither with the theremin nor the electrical/ tape music. However toward the end of the piece, an impressive synthesis of the theremin and tape work was finally presented, with the theremin playing the main rhythm. The composer adopted various noises through out the piece, generating much of a dissonant, inharmonic feeling through out the composition, creating much tension and uneasiness; with which one can find its root in the early years of electrical music while Satie and Schoberg were trying to break away from the mainstream music. Aside from the unpleasant feeling that the piece gives, the piece does a good job in demonstrating the wide variety of sounds that the theremin is capable to make.
The album "Music from the Ether: Original Works for Theremin" could be seen as two different sections: the first nine pieces of the album that showcase the perfect harmony of the incorporation of the electronic instrument, the theremin, with orchestral ensemble in classical music and the last three pieces that stood contrast, demonstrating a whole different realm of music, the technosonics with a feel of the synthesizer and musique concrete added to it. With the two sections focusing on two contrasting field of music, they would obviously appeal to very different audiences. If one is looking for a taste of the colorful nature of the theremin, or is looking for some relaxing background music that one can enjoy, this album "Music from the Ether: Original Works for Theremin," would definitely do the charm and brighten your day.
Lydia Kavina is a master of the theremin. Very few have ever mastered it on her level. She was taught by the inventor of the theremin himself, the late Leon Theremin (Lev Termen). Since the death of Clara Rockmore, it is good to see someone continuing on in promoting this most magical and difficult of instruments.
This recording offers many treats for the listener. Chief among them is the Martinu Fantasy. For those who admire Martinu's work, this CD offers a recording of a rarely heard work of Martinu's.