There is no Bach on Baroque; no Handel, Telemann or Vivaldi. This is the music of the 21st Century, not the 17th, and the composers are violist Nadia Sirota’s friends—who just happen to include some of the most respected musicians of our own moment.
The six pieces on Baroque were written with Sirota’s distinctive sound in mind and recorded (by her longtime collaborators at Bedroom Community) to exaggerate the idiosyncracies of her tone. Fellow labelmates Nico Muhly, Daníel Bjarnason and Paul Corley provide three pieces, while composers Judd Greenstein, Shara Worden and Missy Mazzoli provide the other three.
Baroque , as the title of the album, references a number of things; the concerto form – balancing a soloist against ensemble accompaniment – is an invention of the Baroque era, so while there are concerti here, of a sort, they’re concerti of a decidedly more portable variety. Both Judd Greenstein’s “In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves”, whose intimate ensemble accompaniment opens the album with a different paradigm of “solo” versus “tutti” than more famous efforts in the form, and the self-aware symphonics of Daníel Bjarnason’s
“Sleep Variations”, which closes the disc, build Sirota’s virtual backup band from the overdubbed sound of her own playing. There’s also something very Baroque about the style of pieces like “From the Invisible to the Visible”, by Shara Worden (Clogs, My Brightest Diamond), and “Tooth and Nail” by Missy Mazzoli, two radically different pieces that are both about the elaborate ornamentation of slowly moving harmonies.
Sirota’s approach to the instrument owes something to recent trends in Baroque playing. She can keep her bow-hand light and her left hand still, for a gin-dry sound. It’s a sound prized by, among others, Nico Muhly who thinks of Sirota as his most trusted interpreter—another reason being the sort of rhythmic precision his “Étude 3” demands, with an almost wicked glee. Paul Corley creates a piece to which timbre is so central that the voice of Sirota’s instrument seems as much a part of the composition as the notes she plays. His “Tristan da Cunha”—dark, extreme, and alarmingly detailed—is “Baroque” in the sense of “Brueghel-esque.”
Which leads us to the one thing all of these pieces have in common: that level of detail. Words like “complex,” applied to music, too often suggest a level of intricacy designed to confound, whereas each of the works Sirota brings together here offers an audible clarity of purpose. So let’s instead say that these works—to whatever extent they may recall the Baroque—are instead exquisitely baroque, each concerto, miniature or soundscape realized with extravagant intricacy.
Baroque will be released on New Amsterdam Records in the US.
1. “In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves” – composed by Judd Greenstein
2. “From the Invisible to the Visible” – composed by Shara Worden
3. “Tooth and Nail” – composed by Missy Mazzoli
4. “Étude 3” – composed by Nico Muhly
5. “Tristan da Cunha” – composed by Paul Corley
6. “Sleep Variations” – composed by Daníel Bjarnason
keyboards, synths, percussion
Paul Evans, Missy Mazzoli, Paul Corley
Recorded in 2011–12 at Greenhouse Studios, Reykjavík, Iceland
Produced by Nadia Sirota, Paul Evans and Valgeir Sigurðsson
Track 5 produced by Paul Corley
Recorded and edited by Paul Evans
Mixed by Paul Evans and Valgeir Sigurðsson
Mastered by Valgeir Sigurðsson
Graphic design by Neil Donnelly
Photos by Samantha West