The Strad's experts evaluate the latest string recordings
Tuesday, 01 July 2008
Stephen Nachmanovitch (electric violin)
Blue Cliff Records BCR 0701 (www.bluecliffrecords.com)
‘Ludi fecundus’ – Latin for ‘fertile play’ or ‘the game that creates the world’– comprises short improvisations inspired by creation myths. Stephen Nachmanovitch, a published author and lecturer in improvisation across the arts, has also recorded on the viola, and here plays an electric violin tuned an octave lower than is normal.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first: Nachmanovitch’s tuning is often very approximate, and not in a manner justified by the improvisation or the programmatic references to primal forces. A slightly New-Agey approach suffuses the music: it steeps everything in bathroom-like acoustics (possibly more effective in a live performance space) and makes a little too much use of ambient electronic effects (though these are at times used effectively); but doubling up the reedy, metallic higher registers of this instrument through overdubbing (as in Ubuntu) feels more like punishment than enrichment.
However, the undulating melodies of Continents Like to Play Too are nicely elaborated and shaped, and although the tuning problems contribute to a sense that his improvisation sometimes relies too much on chance, Nachmanovitch rarely overplays his hand or obscures his intent with flashy noodling. There are also moments of highly effective overdubbing: glowing pizzicato embers cushion two arco lines that roam together and apart in Play is the Way, and scurrying wraiths seem to echo down the crevasses of the evocatively titled Interglacial.
Overall, this is a little hit-and-miss, but as befits an album inspired by creation on a grand scale, there are signs of a refined imagination at work.
From the July 2008 issue. Subscribe to The Strad or download our digital edition as part of a 30-day free trial.