Trio Kavak’s “Heirlooms” a Fascinating Album


HEIRLOOMS / SCHIMMEL: The Moon Rabbit Syllabary. WEBB: The Love We Save. BAYOLO: Six Portraits in Flowing Time. SILVERMAN: Would Not Could Not. KELLOGG: Songs for Grandma / Trio Kavak: Amelia Lukas, flautist; Victor Lowrie, violist; Kathryn Andrews, harpist / New Focus Recordings fcr174

This fascinating disc of chamber music for flute, viola and harp is very similar to the Carl Schimmel Roadshow album I reviewed recently; in fact, it even starts off with a Schimmel piece, The Moon Rabbit Syllabary. This piece is equally whimsical but not quite on the wacky-humorous level of his Roadshow pieces; rather, it conjures up moonlight in a way I have seldom heard music do, and I was absolutely delighted by the tremendous emotional involvement that Trio Kavak invests in this piece.

Orianna Webb’s The Love We Save is one of those pieces that, though tonal and aspiring to melodic lines, seems somehow more elusive to the mind than The Moon Rabbit Syllabary. There is one flute melody about 3:20 into the piece for the listener to hang on to, but for the most part the music is lovely and engaging depsite the lack of formal melody. It makes perfect sense that Webb wrote this music for her then-three-year-old daughter. The opening, she explains in the notes, is a “developing chaconne,” which probably explains the lack of a definable melody. In the latter part of the piece, Webb uses some clever development in her interaction of the three instruments.

Armando Bayolo’s Six Portraits in Flowing Time takes a diverse approach to composition, utilizing slightly different styles and harmonic approaches as he moves from piece to piece. The opening, “Album Pages,” is essentially tonal and lovely, whereas the second piece, “She Finds Her Voice,” is unusually structured and rides on occasionally bitonal harmonies. “Giggles” is a bubbling, effervescent piece reminiscent of some of Duke Ellington’s writing for his River suite, while “Bridal Song” is sparse, with sustained notes by the viola and jagged bursts of sound from the flute and harp surrounding it, at least until a lyrical flute melody enters at about 1:40, just in time for the piece to end. Interestingly, “The Little Risk Taker” also begins in a jagged manner, this time with all three instruments enjoined in the rhythmic spikiness, and remains so throughout its length. “A Song Before the End” is a slow, haunting piece, played on the flute as if it were a recorder of bamboo flute, with interfections from the harp and a drone-like obbligato from the viola. It has much more the feeling of folk music than the other pieces in the suite. The second half of this piece stays focused on just two tones played by the flute, over and over, in an almost minimalist style.

Adam Silverman describes his Would Not, Could Not as a musical setting of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. It is a bustling, energetic piece, once again tonal but not necessarily melodic. Silverman used the rhythms of certain couplets from the Seuss book as a basis for his music, but does not let us know which ones he used. Silverman does say, however, that although “not entirely strict, the phrases of the character Sam are commonly given to the viola, while the words of the unnamed, green-eggs-detesting character are given to the flute.” This creates an interesting tension and interplay between them; the harp is relegated to the role of occasional commentator and accompanist. One of the things I found interesting, and amusing, about the piece was that Silverman was able to continually knit these little bursts of musical conversation together to form a coherent whole. In the latter section, the conversation seems to break up into smaller pieces of information and, as a result, little shards of music knitted cleverly together.

The album concludes with the wordless Songs for Grandma by Daniel Kellogg, honoring the relationship his daughter Kaela had with her grandmother, Win Kellogg. The opening piece, “Longing,” is extremely gentle music, haunting in its own way and utilizing a lot of “space” between segments. Trio Kavak does a beautiful job of entering into the spirit of the piece, nudging it along with a gentle but persistent rhythm and a feeling of loving warmth so essential to the mood of the piece. In the second piece, “Christmas Squirrels and Candy,” Kellogg uses the harp in a percussive manner, sparking the flute and viola tune to characterize their last Halloween together, while “I Dream of Butterflies” opens with an a cappella flute solo, leading into another viola drone as a sort of basso continuo and, a bit later, sparse harp interjections. Eventually the viola assumes a larger role in the development, interacting with the flute as a sort of “grounding” for the latter’s flutters (and the harp plucks) representing the butterflies.

All in all, Heirlooms is an interesting album, introducing a trio new to me as well as some composers I had not previously known.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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