Illumination: Piano Works of Victoria Bond
Paul Barnes, piano and chanter.
Slovak Radio Orchestra/Kirk Trevor;
Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic/Kirk Trevor
Albany Records TROY 1880
Total Time: 64:41
Pianist Paul Barnes is featured exploring music inspired by ancient chant in this release featuring the work of Victoria Bond (b. 1945). Bond was a student of Ingolf Dahl and Roger Sessions and early in her career assisted on some of Phillip Glass’s film scores. Barnes has also worked with the latter over 25 years having also commissioned pieces by the composer. He has also been quite instrumental in the development of the music on this album collaborating with Bond on recording her music and the world of Eastern chant.
The opening pieces here are for solo piano and take their inspiration from Byzantine chants. Illuminations (2021) has slowly evolved into a three-movement work. Its first movement, “Potirion Sotiriu” was composed in 1999 and incorporates the essence of that ancient chant melody into a mystical exploration that continues in the central “Simeron Kremate” (2019) which introduces a bit more intensity and dissonance; and moves into a sounder conclusion in the final “Enite ton Kyrion” (2021). The latter pulls together the chants from the other movements to provide an apt conclusion to the work as a whole. The music here recalls the work of Thomas de Hartmann’s mystical music inspired by the philosopher George Gurdjieff. They are quite compelling pieces that are written in an accessible style with modern harmonic ideas adding a little extra flavor. Bond’s music tends to be a bit more complex in construction with the chants feeling finely integrated into the musical reflections here. As a bonus, one can listen to the chants sing by Barnes as a sort of addendum to this album. This helps listeners better connect with the pieces further and provides another entry point for this music.
The album also includes two re-releases of previously-recorded works for piano and orchestra that inhabit the same sort of philosophical milieu. Ancient Keys (2002) is a single-movement concerto that also uses the opening “Potirion Sotiriu” piano work now given a more expansive pallet. The chant is sung as the work opens to provide some context for what is to follow. The swirling opening of that chant informs the opening orchestral material that wafts up from the lower realms of the ensemble in a sort of slow spiral. The way the material is handled has some parallels to the work of Hovhaness, though Bond’s musical language tends to stay more traditional. The orchestral writing does allow for some interesting interaction with the soloist with a good forward motion and dramatic flair.
Black Light (1997) closes the release with a bit of variety in inspiration. The works on the release overall are based on musical meditations of illumination and here Bond shifts her attention to African American musical traditions blending them with her own religious background. The three-movement work opens with an intense driving rhythmic idea with a bit of interplay in a lighter theme for piano. The latter displays a sense of wit. The music here shifts to a far more dissonant set of pulses and angular piano lines that make for a nice contrast to the previous works. The jazzier syncopation is also part of orchestration that takes its cues from jazz orchestral works making it a sort of contemporary integration of the style. The central movement uses a Jewish liturgical chant for its primary material. Finally, the piece wraps up with a hybrid rondo variation form inspired by the scat singing style of Ella Fitzgerald.
Interesting works and engaging music make for a fine introduction to Bond’s music for new listeners. The performances feel quite committed and Barnes seems to be a fine interpreter of the music here offering informed, nuanced playing in the opening Illuminations and having a bit more opportunity for technical displays in the larger orchestral concerto pieces. Both orchestras manage to tackle these pieces with a nice sense of precision. The Martinu orchestra seems particularly attuned to the jazz gestures and that helps the piece quite a bit. Everything is mastered well and equalized which allows for good imaging of the piano against the orchestra. Clarity in the textures is also quite good which is both due to Bond’s orchestration as well as the clean playing of the orchestras. Overall a quite interesting and engaging collection of modern music for piano.