AMN Reviews: Julia Rovinsky – Dark (EnT-T)

Born in St. Petersburg, celebrated in Moscow, Julia Rovinsky is currently principal harpist of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, after making aliyah in 2003.

Her first two solo albums, released two years apart, are “close up” versions of often-ingeniously selected minimalist composers, both sacred and profane, few of which were ever intended to be played on her instrument. “Dusk”, the first album, opens with Philip Glass´ “Metamorphosis I”, a natural for transcription from solo piano. Bach´s “Goldberg Variations” – gentle and distinct as teardrops on a satin handkerchief – and Ryuichi Sakamoto´s popular theme from “The Last Emperor” lend an air of genteel cosmopolitanism. Twentieth-century Romantic Nicolas Flagello´s “Maestuso Quasi Allegro” was in fact written for harp and is a kind of dramatic high point, though it is her rendition of “An Arc of Doves” by Harold Budd and Brian Eno that is the most memorable moment on “Dusk”. The transcription of a classic ambient recording in which texture was so important shows off Budd´s melodic skills and Rovinsky´s grand talent.

“Dark” is its slightly more meditative sequel, with Glass and Budd revisited along with Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich and Assyrian-Iraqi oudist Munir Bashir. Her version of “Étude for Piano No. 2” is gentler than Glass´ original, youthful recording but otherwise faithful; so is her “Für Alina”, but what was utterly profound when played by Alexander Malter on the ECM premiere recording sounds moribund on the harp. Sometimes you just can´t beat a piano for resonance.

The jewel in this lotus is “Du´a – Invocation”, transcribed, like the Budd/Eno track, by one John Eidsvoog; a glimpse of genius from one of Middle East´s most influential twentieth-century composers. The closing cover of Steve Reich´s “Piano Phase” is a fifteen-minute tour-de-force, Rovinsky´s able fingers fervently replicating what Reich needed dual pianos to achieve. It´s fascinating listening to her go in and out of phase with herself.

A trilogy in the making? Because after the dark always comes the dawn.

Stephen Fruitman