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Linda Catlin Smith - Ballad [Another Timbre - 2020]

Ballad is a recent CD release of two cello and piano pieces by Toronto based Linda Catlin Smith, who has a real talent for composing sparse and melancholic modern classic music- that’s often edged with haunting melody and mood.  This release appears on the always consistent Another Timbre label- with the CD been presented in the labels house style minimal white gatefold packaging- this release features on its front cover a black and white picture of a collection of glass containers in a window filled with picked wildflowers- and this certainly feels fitting to the feeling of downturn wonder and grandeur with-in the two pieces presented here.

Both tracks were recorded in Goldsmiths music studio London in March of this year- with both been played by members of respected modern ensemble the Apartment House. We have Anton Lukoszevieze on cello, and Kerry Yong on piano- both play Catlin Smith's composition with such emotional depth and gentle flare, as this certainly is not music that can be rushed- either by the players or those listening to it.

The first track was composed in 1994 and is entitled “Through the Low Hills”- it runs just shy of the ten-minute mark. It opens with a fairly even and persistently paced blend of starkly sawing string tones and bounding low-end keys. As the piece progresses, we get the addition of higher chiming keys- this adds a feeling of swirling autumnal dart to the work- as if one is watching the final last few leaves fall off an early winter tree. As we progress further the pace slows, and each instruments patterns drift out for a selection of bleak string swoons and mid-range key darts, which at points hint at the harmonic- but largely remain fraught and lightly angular.

The second track here is the title track, which was composed in 2005, and takes up the lion share of the disc at just over the forty-six-minute mark. The piece one again begins with a fairly evenly-paced blend of violin and piano- with deeper string swoops blending with mid rage notation cascades. Fairly soon this initial union is broken, as each instrument starts treading out its own largely forlorn sound path. At points along the way they do once again join/ lightly complement each other, but mainly we find each playing out its own pattern solo, or lightly bounded to the other. From the violin, we go from forlornly folky, to seared/ sour, onto the almost stumbling jazzy. And from the piano, we move from brooding cascades, onto grim and fraught darts, though to fleeting moments of more pacy runs. From the above description, you may think the work is episodic and wonderingly loose- the former certainly is true, but the latter isn’t as Catlin Smith composition always retains its focus and initial mood, with certain patterns/ note blends revisited throughout the work.

As a release Ballad feels perfectly primed for this time of year, as in many places around the world we are shifting from the hazy sunshine of later summer to colder rainier autumn. Both compositions nicely complement each other with their initial formal and joined instrumentation fragmenting into wonderful forlorn and at times spellbinding patterns. As always if you’d like to purchase this direct do head to the label directly here.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Roger Batty
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