Dark with Excessive Bright

DarkwithexcessivebrightI’ve listened to and liked a lot of Missy Mazzoli’s operatic and vocal music but hadn’t had much exposure to her purely instrumental writing so  was interested to get hold of a copy of her new SACD release Dark with Excessive Bright.

The title track was originally composed as a concerto for double bass and string orchestra but here it’s given in two reworkings for solo violin; one with string orchestra and the other with string quintet.  The soloist is Peter Herresthal and in the orchestral version he’s accompanied by Bergen Philharmonic conducted by James Gaffigan.  I think all the hallmarks of Mazzoli’s music, excet perhaps the use of electronics, are present in this piece.  There’s a baroque sensibility combined with 20th century minimalism but in the context of the 21st century’s embrace of individual voices rather than dominant fashions.  So, largely tonal chords are recycled n different, fairly repetitive rhythmic patterns, but it never gets dull or new agey.  I think I like the arrangement for string quintet even more.  Here it’s players from the Arctic Philharmonic conducted by Tim Weiss accompanying.  The textures are lighter and it seems to have more clarity.  Good stuff.

Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres), played by the Arctic Philharmonic and Weiss, is fascinating.  There are rococo loops, slow at first, then wilder, playing over a hurdy gurdy like wheezing, droning sound.  It gets louder and more insistent and quite ominous before fading away into nothingness.

These Worlds in Us was inspired by James Tate’s  poem The Lost Pilot, about his father’s death in WW2 and it’s dedicated to Mazzoli’s father who served in Vietnam.  It’s a very tuneful piece full scooping notes under repetitive riffs but with lots of attack.  This and the following track also feature the Arctic Philharmonic and Tim Weiss.

Orpheus Undone is a longer piece in two movements.  It aims to capture and recycle the moment where Orpheus learns of Euridice’s death, rather as the western tradition endlessly captures and recycles the Orpheus myth.  The titles of the two movements are taken from Rilke’s Orpheus Sonnets.  “Behold the Machine, O Death” has this feeling that it’s going to break out and go somewhere different but it never does.  It’s quite dark.  “War of Violence, We Endure” is perhaps lighter and brighter starting very quiet then getting “boomier” before fading away again.  Both movements seem to combine a sense of stasis in both its modern English sense and the original meaning.

Vespers for Violin, played, by Herresthal, is quite different.  Here amplified violin is accompanied by a recorded track created by sampling parts of Vespers for a New Dark Age.  One can hear voice, and organ and strings but they have been heavily delayed and distorted.  There’s a complex and busy part for the violin playing over the designed chaos of the electronics.  Vey effective.

All in all there’s 66 minutes of music.  The first track was recorded in Bergen in 2021 and the rest in Bodsø in 2022.  It’s an exemplary recording and takes full advantage of the dynamic and frequency range of SACD.  In other words it sounds really good.

I think this record is a good way to explore Mazzoli’s non-vocal output.  It’s going to be released on 3rd March 2023 as a physical hybrid SACD/CD and digitally in MP3 and FLAC (standard CQ quality) but really the physical SACD is the one to go for here.  It also comes with an excellent booklet and in eco-friendly packaging.  The only plastic is the disk itself.

Catalogue number: BIS 2572


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s