Yarlung's GRAMMY nominated Fire and Fancy  Is Music For Moderns

In my previous review of the Korppoo Trio by the Sibelius Piano Trio and Yarlung Records, I spoke a great deal about the recording philosophy of this boutique classical outfit and their AAA, 45rpm chamber music records. From the same recording sessions that brought us that exquisite romantic delight, we have another outing with musicians Petteri Iivonen, Juho Pohjonen, and Samuli Peltonen, this time with a decidedly different program.

The GRAMMY nominated Fire & Fancy is definitely a departure in musical style from the romanticism of the aforementioned Sibelius work. Both compositions here were commissioned by Yarlung and the Sibelius Trio for this release. “Nene” by Diego Schicci takes the listener through four themed movements: I. Jumping on the Walls, II. Dozing on a Hanger, III. Riding a mosquito, and IV. Oozing Away. The compositional style is assuredly tonal, but with enough modern thematic elements to appear new and refreshing. The perpetual motion of the first movement; ‘Jumping on the Walls’, as well as mvmt 4 ‘Riding a Mosquito’, is masterfully played by the trio, particularly in the frantic and seemingly random string ostinato that weave in and out of the texture. On another note, I was very impressed by the depth of the recorded Steinway piano tone, which is almost always frustratingly difficult to capture. Just because this is more modern fare, doesn’t mean the musicians do away with any of the ensemble sensitivity they demonstrated on the Sibelius work. Slow and haunting moments in ‘Dozing on A Hanger’ are played with keen attention to the musical affect, with perfectly placed moments of silence and anticipation. ‘Oozing Away’ serves as a fitting resolution to the many different ideas Schicci introduces throughout the piece, starting with the frantic themes present in the previous movements, then evolving into something more melodic and thoughtful, a beautiful and bittersweet end to a rather thrilling journey.

On the B-side, the single-movement, through-composed “Ruminations” by David S. Lefkowitz focuses a bit more on sonics than on melodic development, but produces chilling audible effects to the listener, particularly in the opening bars with prepared piano techniques (I wondered at first if Iivonen had switched to harpsichord) and Arabic solo cadenzas with otherworldly harmonics played by cello and violin. Instruments in this piece are rendered with hyper realism, with every note of the piano, both plucked and struck, weighted just right. Violin harmonics are large and effervescent in the soundstage, and every cadenza like line from the solo instruments bloom with grace. The work does meander some in the middle, but the skill of keeping these disparate melodic lines together and cohesive is handled marvelously by the ensemble. Where the Schicci takes you on a musical journey, this piece is more about evoking moods and images, and in that regard I do think it’s quite successful.

Here's the good news, sonically, both sides of this record are a tour de force, I would say they even slightly better those found on the Korppoo Trio recording. All the little details such as note decay, string bite, pizzicato tone, piano weight, are all here in spades. The music will be less crowd-pleasing than the bread and butter chamber repertoire most are familiar with, but by no means does this mean they are not approachable listens. They are very tonal and easy to digest. I found myself preferring the adventure of “Nene”, while personally I think the allure of “Ruminations” starts to wear off as the piece progresses.

All that being said, I think it would be easy and safe for The Sibelius Trio and Yarlung to release yet another recording of Beethoven, Schubert, Dvorak, etc. Instead, they have shown their commitment not just to producing artistically fine and sonically marvelous recordings, but also to promoting the vitality of this art form in the 21st century, not only performing new music, but commissioning its very creation, and on that they must be commended! In the same way it’s necessary to expand and push forward the repertoire we play in the concert hall, it’s necessary to expand our horizons as classical record buyers. I make this sound like some imposing feat, when this music is incredibly tuneful and approachable and nothing like the “challenging” music some contemporary audiences were subjected to in the 1950s and 60s. But because there is not some storied household-name composer on the title, some may pass this record by, and I think that would be a shame. Give Fire and Fancy a try, and the music may wow you (the sonics are guaranteed to). This is for sure going in the ‘demo disc’ pile! Michael Johnson is a Phoenix, AZ based musician and audio writer. He plays oboe and English Horn in the Tucson Symphony, and performs regularly with other Arizona ensembles such as the Phoenix Symphony and Arizona Opera. He is a contributing writer at Audiophilia and maintains a vinyl-focused youtube channel by the name of PoetryOnPlastic. You can also follow his vinyl journey on Instagram at instagram.com/poetryonplastic

Lucas James's picture

Can't wait to get my hands on one of these!

Rebeca's picture

It is a precious prize. The nominees are also excellent people. They have a dedication to music. I appreciate them.
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