SOLILOQUY • Paul York (vc) • ABLAZE 00020 (64:46)
SCEARCE Gae’s Lament. SAARIAHO Spins and Spells. BACH Cello Suite No. 1. JEREMY BECK Prelude and Toccata. ORTH Rage. SPECK Soliloquies. KNEHANS The Other
Paul York opens Soliloquy, his program of music for solo cello, with J. Mark Scearce’s sad comment on the state of the Prince William Sound, Alaska, after the Exxon Valdez 1989 oil spill, one of the most devastating human-caused disasters ever recorded. Scearce calls the work Gae’s Lament because he considers the spill an affront to the ancient Greek goddess of the earth and nature. Whereas the Lament is slow, dignified, and meditative, Kaija Saariaho’s Spins and Spells begins with a sparkling line that introduces the listener to the colors and textures that enliven and energize her musical world. York’s lyrical cello rendition of the Bach Suite No. 1 is 17 emotionally touching minutes of great beauty. By placing the work of this seminal composer here, York shows us the basic inspiration and the original font from which much modern music for unaccompanied cello springs. Always the consummate musician, he plays the Bach with the utmost grace. After the easily recognizable Prelude, Bach follows the rich harmonic version of the Allemande with an energetic, spirited Courante, to which the listener can easily picture dancers performing fast and graceful motions. The stately Sarabande allows York to show his achingly beautiful tone quality and facile trills while the listener pictures dancers performing extended motions. Two minuets follow, one joyous and the other sad, before the finale, a light and airy Gigue that seems to sprint across the mental stage.
Jeremy Beck’s Prelude and Toccata is related to Bach. Beck uses tonal language and some Baroque forms but his approach is 21st-century. Rene Orth’s Rage is a fascinating addition to this program because she has written a work that requires wild juxtapositions and double-stopping for a cellist who is capable of performing them with seeming ease. Frederick Speck’s Soliloquies is the disc’s title piece. The composer notes that the cellist for whom he wrote the work has a span of expressive detail that ranges from the most intimate gestures to extremely robust, earthy virtuosity. Douglas Knehans composition The Other has three movements each of which is notably different from the others. The first, “Encased,” is plucked or played pizzicato; the second, “Light,” is a slow, bowed statement of tune fragments; and the last, “Dervish,” is an energetic perpetual motion that wanders through the cellist’s entire range of sound. Knehans’s music is positively enchanting. Paul York plays it with a brilliant technique, great beauty of tone, and profound understanding of the composer’s intentions.
York is a brilliant cellist who commissions fascinating works and presents them in a most interesting manner. Ablaze Records has captured the sounds of his cello cleanly and clearly so that the final result is a disc that cello enthusiasts will insist on owning. I know I would not like to be without it. Maria Nockin
This article originally appeared in Issue 39:2 (Nov/Dec 2015) of Fanfare Magazine.