Saturday, November 4, 2023

Wayne Alpern: “The Shape Of Strings” (2022) CD Review

One thing that I love about composer and arranger Wayne Alpern is that he does not tie himself to whatever he has already accomplished (which is significant), and instead sets forth into different territories with each album, each project. He often offers interesting arrangements of other artists’ material, as he did on 2021’s Jukebox and 2020’s Standard Deviation, somehow making each track seem as if it is his own composition. The Shape Of Strings, released last year, does contain his original work, performed by the String Orchestra Of New York City. On violin are Monica Bauchwitz, Lauren Cauley-Kalal, Regi Papa, Sarah Whitney, Arthur Moeller and Kristi Helberg. On viola are Miranda Sielaff and Margaret Dyer. On cello are Jing Li and Caleb Van Der Swaagh. And on bass is Logan Coale.

The disc opens with “Reinvention 1,” which has a bright, cheerful vibe as it starts. It feels like the beginning of a film about a community, a town that is small, but busy, a town with traditions, but without the people feeling restrained by them, and rather soothed by them. This track does have a soothing effect, the character of the place being its driving force. You want to dive into this piece, welcomed by its joyful populace. There is also a sense of nature, a waterfall along a path in the woods, a spring, a glade, all of which are unharmed by the activity of the people. There is a more somber mood to “Reinvention 2,” and a more solitary air. Yet there is something soothing about this one as well, and something beautiful. The music allows for memories to rise and mix with the present, ghosts swirling just above our heads, wings brushing against our cheeks, the air itself feeling alive. So not so solitary after all. The final track of this section, “Reinvention 3,” begins in familiar territory, and soon there is a lightness to its steps, like a dance, somewhat formal but sprightly. There is an excitement to the proceedings. I imagine a group listening attentively in a chamber, but suddenly find themselves hovering above their wooden chairs, the walls having melted into color. Things take a more serious turn at that point, and we all soon find ourselves drifting into another land, perhaps separated from each other now, or at least unaware of the others, not focused on them, but only on our own experience, our own emotions. We turn inward. The brief pauses seem to ready us for a gentle departure, so the sudden burst of excitement at the end comes as a surprise.

“Serenade 1” begins in an excited state, a hurry. There is a sense of intrigue, of a plot in progress, like we’ve entered the cinema during the second reel, and we are immediately caught up in its motion, in its energy, in its drive. And then it is over, this being the album’s shortest track. We are in a more solemn place as “Serenade 2” begins, a darker place, with a more contemplative air. But as we widen our focus, there are shafts of glorious light around us offering some comfort, even if from a distance. And within them there is the sense that things will be all right, if we keep that brighter horizon in mind as we tend to what is needed directly in front of us. The beauty of this piece offers a strange comfort. Then “Serenade 3” seems to move toward us at the start, through whatever haze or darkness or trouble might surround us. It gets through it all, and brings with it a light and a promise of something incredible waiting for us just in the distance. Then it is like we begin to catch that excitement and rush forward to meet it, and there is movement all around, and it’s glorious to be a part of it, even if there is some element of risk, of danger there within. This track has sort of a cute ending.

With “Divertimento 1,” we enter a playful realm, where the sprites poke us and tease us and invite us to join the game. We are children again, our adult costume suddenly too big for us, and we slip out of it. Some of this is familiar territory. We recall it, relive it. “Divertimento 2” eases in, the sound washing over us as we relax on our favorite chair, a chair of our fathers and grandfathers. Their twinkle is there, we can feel it, and smile in response. And then, have we fallen into a dream, or have we entered this fanciful realm through some other, perhaps physical, portal? It doesn’t matter how, but we have arrived in a place that sounds of childhood, a timeless place where everything is of the moment, and we can dance with angels or play games with our ancestors. A sweet joy pervades this one, and if we become tired, suddenly remembering that we are much older, this piece wraps us in its wings, holds us while we rest. Our energy returns before the end. “Divertimento 3,” the album’s final track, feels like a game underway out in the fields, where running is like dancing. Here again there are flashes, reminders that perhaps this is all memory, that we are no longer able to run, and yet it’s okay. With our eyes closed, we find the music can take us wherever and whenever we want. And isn’t that wonderful?

CD Track List

  1. Reinvention 1
  2. Reinvention 2
  3. Reinvention 3
  4. Serenade 1
  5. Serenade 2
  6. Serenade 3
  7. Divertimento 1
  8. Divertimento 2
  9. Divertimento 3

The Shape Of Strings was released on September 9, 2022.

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