A new series of performances (Off-Key Sessions: Modern Classics) presented by Fluid Audio started this week in a very special Bristol venue. The night's programme of works by Christoph Berg, Olan Mill and Daniel Thomas Freeman elegantly prepared the small vaulted crypt and its 60 ticket holders for the larger demands of four-handed "Rustle Of The Stars", a collaborative project of Frédéric D. Oberland (Paris) and Richard Knox (Leeds). Cake (delicious cake) and drinks were served in the short intervals. The setting and the sequencing were perfect.
A recorded version of the work has already been ably reviewed in W&H by Christopher Nosnibor. This live performance, in the stillness of the 700 year-old crypt, with sympathetic video projection behind the band and adjustments to instrumentation for the live context made a whole new experience with exceptional emotional power.
The original inspiration was an imagined journey to the Northern Arctic. The music was frozen breath on a silent air, with Lidwine's angelic voice lifting our hearts up towards a flickering night sky in the opening section "Sleeping Land pt I". The audience's shiver was audible. It was as if the vaults above us had opened out. We had learned to expect something special in the evening's first half and that very small and very large things could be heard and cherished.
The rest was a series of movements through crushing ice, despair and release. Drama was hinted at in the subtle ways that touch the soul without needing words. Harp, viola, voices, ranges of keyboard and guitar sounds, a bowl, a cymbal, a companion organ and a hidden store of secrets and sources gave a luxury to the listening. (One passage of guitar ebow with a slide, cutting into the female duet was breathtaking) What could be described as minimalist was, in fact, a protracted pleasure of change and voluptuous surprise. The focus was intense: even a broken string before one transition made no difference. We paused, the music returned.
The band played from the slightly raised end of the long rectangular crypt. It made a very deep stage in which they could move between instruments and interact with each other while still being able to face the audience. Angela Chan's viola, and voice, had a stillness and wisdom. Lidwine's harp was the wilful foil to her haunting voice. Oberland and Knox commanded the lower ground. Each musician played more instruments and devices as required. There was respect for and pleasure in each other's contributions, as you might see in the best classical quartets.
With such a success at the first event I really hope the Off-Key Sessions become a regular part of the calendar. For those beyond Bristol, there is nourishing music to be found on Fluid Audio's website. Cake is to dream about.