Sounds of Transformation – David Greilsammer [Sony Classical]

3 of 5 stars

“An enigmatic journey to a distant universe where classical and jazz meet to transform each other”
Includes Ravel
Piano Concerto in G

Geneva Camerata/David Greilsammer (piano) with Yaron Herman (jazz piano), Ziv Ravitz (drums), et al

Recorded 5-7 September 2016, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: March 2018
Duration: 76 minutes



On paper this is a cleverly designed programme, and a provocatively paradoxical one, in that by exploring the theme of transformation, it uses the apparently non-developmental form of a palindrome, centred on Ravel’s G-major Piano Concerto. David Greilsammer’s liner note make reference to Cervantes’s Don Quixote (“to think that all things in this life always remain in the same state, is believing the impossible”) but one might just as well cite T. S. Eliot’s “in my beginning is my end”. That paradox is not made explicit, but it also seems to be implied by the specific selection of music here which fastens on pieces that tend to use repetition as their means of expression, rather than the organic development of motifs. Change or transformation arises through the disc’s forging connections between classical and jazz and blues genres by pairing various works (though mainly Baroque ones) with jazzier re-workings of them by Massimo Pinca and Jonathan Keren.

The performances of the Baroque dances and interludes by the Geneva Camerata under Greilsammer’s direction are alert in adopting authentic practice on modern instruments, but also provide solid background as the repeated themes of the original pieces form the bedrock of the jazzy riffs and re-imaginings that follow ineluctably in the first half of the disc and anticipate them in the second (although ‘Purcell Danced with the Planets’ cheats in quoting the original ‘Hornpipe’ from The Fairy Queen verbatim at first). Links are made, then, across certain styles and eras, and there is a consistency in drawing predominantly upon the colour of French music. Purcell fits within that as having been inspired by Lullian music drama in the creation of his semi-operas, and Yaron Herman’s piano elaborations on the Prelude from The Fairy Queen (track four) create the sort of bittersweet harmonic collisions that the composer liked to use within the idiom of his own musical grammar to add piquancy. It is less clear what connection exists between the Purcellian original and the Balkan folksong-like improvisation which Simos Papanas doodles over it on violin after Harman, playing with enigmatic introversion. Ira Givol tackles Marais’s Le Badinage with elegant melancholy, before the inchoate expression of Ziv Ravitz’s extemporisation on drums and the effects of a wind machine (track thirteen) achieve tangible form in Rameau’s representation of a storm, from Platée.

Given its place off-centre in the palindromic structure, Keren’s response to Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question falls ten tracks after the latter, although the basic model of the original remains intact. Neither track sits so easily within this selection, however, despite Ives’s use of two keys at once, as its content is harmonically and thematically simple, however evocative it may be in performance. That seems to be recognised by Geneva Camerata, who play it so steadily as to lack any metaphysical intensity, and therefore devoid of any more graspable meaning that might make it pertinent to this programme.

Perhaps because Ravel’s consciously jazz-inflected Piano Concerto stands at the still-centre of this disc – and identified by Greilsammer as a sort of palindrome itself, with its middle movement spinning an uninterrupted melody that shuns development – his performance (both conducting and at the piano) is more relaxed and non-committal than would otherwise be justified. Although there is something to be said for its reserved, poised character, avoiding gushing or emotion, it could take more risks and sound more driven, if only because the sublime Mozartean simplicity of that slow movement fails to register effectively. Some delightful, captivating timbres emerge from the orchestra, however, such as an ethereal harp, and a saxophone-like bassoon in the opening movement, and a veiled cor anglais solo in the Adagio.

The unintended paradox of this collection is that its classical elements do not loosen up enough or attain the sense of freedom required by their metamorphoses into the jazzier segments. Instead they are merely juxtaposed, rather than seamlessly transformed, despite the minimal pauses between tracks. The novel and enterprising conception is not fully revealed in execution, but it is surely a fruitful idea worth building upon, and one wonders what could result from a more Germanic-oriented repertoire.

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