AMN Reviews: Samuel Andreyev – Iridescent Notation (2020; KAIROS)

Samuel Andreyev’s new album release, Iridescent Notation, comprises works that span his entire compositional career, from his first published work to his most recent work Iridescent Notation, a cantata featuring the poetry of Tom Raworth.  The album is characterized by shifts between pure, ethereal passages, like mobiles or paintings, and noisier passages that evoke urban scenes.  For context, the ‘ethereal’ sections share similarities with Boulez’s Notations for Piano, or Takemitsu, while the ‘noisy’ sections are more comparable to Varese’s Ameriques.  This stylistic difference acts in symbiosis with Raworth’s poetry: while Raworth often writes about the commonplace, his poems simultaneously have an introspective quality and an outward profundity.  

The pieces in this album are often multi-layered and complex, while also retaining a great degree of clarity and conciseness.  This has just as much to do with Andreyev’s compositional technique as it does with the excellent balance and sound spatialization executed by conductor Luigi Gaggiero, the performers of the Ukho Ensemble, and sound engineer Andrii Mokrytskyi. 

The compositions in Iridescent Notation prioritize interactions between instruments, with an acute sensitivity to timbre and spatiality.  While some of the pieces in the album have a somewhat large instrumentation, one is never presented with a muddy orchestration, or an impermeable wall of cinematic-sounding orchestral music.  Instead, each instrumental detail serves a specific role and occupies a part of the musical space.  In this way, pieces like A Propos du La Conciert de la Semaine Derniere and Iridescent Notation are similar to Webern’s Op. 10.  Broadly, the pieces are gestural and mesmerizing on the surface level, and it generally takes multiple listens before one can comprehend the trajectories and interactions between passages that allow each piece to fully manifest itself.    

Some pieces make reference to Andreyev’s other works, both by localized sonic moments and in a broader, structural sense.  A dichotomous organization in I. The inventor Projected, recalls his piece Verifications: I., which is arranged in a diptych that juxtaposes a rapidly shifting passage with a more drawn-out, restful passage.  This sort of organization has a unique psychological effect on our time perception–the presentation of differing rates of novel information literally affects how we perceive time.  While this effect is certainly a striking feature of the music, the more lasting quality is one’s complete immersion in the music, and a sense of the music living.  The presence of the Casio SK-1 keyboard in Iridescent Notation creates another parallel with Verifications, Andreyev’s only other piece to use the instrument. 

Soprano (Maren Shwier) and first violinist (Rachel Koblyakov) are particularly commendable performers in this album.  Shwier shows control and expressivity throughout Iridescent Notation.  Her performance in VI. Come Back, Come Back, O Glittering and White is extremely beautiful, and she handles the wild juxtapositions in movement IV. with ease.  Koblyakov breathes an organic, timbral instability into sul ponticello harmonics in V. Pressing, Turning and manages to make runs of notes expand and bulge in a surreal way.  Dina Pysarenko’s performance on piano in A Propos du La Conciert de la Semaine Derniere must be mentioned as well.  Her sense of balance–making notes appear as inflections of others, as well as her ability to make a sustained note carry through a phrase and resurface–brings out details that are essential to this piece.  

As a fan of Andreyev’s music for many years, Iridescent Notation is one of his most captivating pieces yet, and the Ukho Ensemble gives vibrant performances of his previously-recorded pieces.  

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