New Albion

You can blather about Feldman, Lachenmann, Cage and Xenakis as much as you like, but if you’ve never heard the Oregon-born composer Stephen Scott’s Vikings Of The Sunrise (New Albion) you’ve missed out on one of the highpoints of contemporary music – we’re talking Desert Island Disc here. Like all Scott albums, Vikings features his Bowed Piano Ensemble, a 10-member unit working the interior of a grand piano with all kinds of objects, notably rosined sticks and nylon threads, in intricate manual choreography to summon forth puzzling spectral halos and unprecedented harmonies. In recent years, Scott has added a new element to the music – the voice of Victoria Hansen – which has shifted the focus of his compositions towards the exploration of different kinds of melodic material. The Deep Spaces is a song cycle based on the words and music of famous poets and composers (including Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, and Liszt), inspired by the natural beauty of Lake Como in Northern Italy. Scott’s settings for Hansen have a graceful savoir-faire, the delicate arpeggios and percussive caresses centering on her never-invasive timbre, the whole often sounding like the soundtrack to a fairy story, especially when the Ensemble tears your heart out with those unpredictable harmonic shifts and tangential bass lines so typical of Scott’s work. A gentle lullaby theme based on a two-note octave fragment recurs throughout, but other facets of the composer’s artistic vision are present in “Evening On Como”, with its slow cavalcade of string resonance and contrapuntal auras. It’s another splendid Stephen Scott album, one that reveals more of its minute details with each new listen. Time for the music establishment to finally recognize this man’s merits – and for me to give this its fifth consecutive spin.

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