Miranda Cuckson is a violinist of tremendous technical and expressive power. In recent years she has increasingly devoted herself to the music of High, Post-, and Neo-Modernism, creating, through her recordings and performances, a market for challenging music that embraces the complexity of contemporary life. She presents this music in contexts that are increasingly embraced by audiences interested in something new and, yes, something more challenging than the mainstream.
Ms. Cuckson’s previous disc on Urlicht gave us Modernist classics from Elliott Carter and Roger Sessions and a neo-Modern response from Jason Eckardt. Her new disc, Melting the Darkness, is a bold, demanding program of microtonal music for solo violin and music for violin and electronics, most of which was written in the last several years.
In her engaging liner notes, Ms. Cuckson writes about how, in the time “since turning much attention…to the music being written in my own time,” she has sought out (and commissioned) music that requires that she explore sonic and expressive powers of the violin that go beyond “the familiar glories of its ‘heritage.'” These new glories are such an integral part of the music offered here that the infrequent use of traditional technique is a special technique itself.
My God! What has sound got to do with music?—Charles Ives
The music on Melting the Darkness addresses the ideas behind Ives’ famous quote in some pretty radical ways. Iannis Xenakis‘ Mikka S is, in many respects, the piece that makes the rest of the music on the program possible. It is made of two contrapuntal, largely sliding, lines that the player must project despite the fact that the lines are often moving in opposition to each other. The glissandos are usually very slow and grinding. Ms. Cuckson’s bow control is amazing here, and throughout the program.
Georg Friederich Haas‘ de terrae fine is a deeply introspective work—a look inside a probing, isolated mind. The piece clearly and insistently traces an arc of growing intensity followed by a brief denouement, as the energy is spent, and all that’s left is silence.
Oscar Bianchi‘s somewhat ironically titled Semplice is much brighter in color than most of the rest of the program. Its simplicity is relative and mostly on the surface. The piece requires the performer to be very light on her feet, and Ms. Cuckson is very much at home in its soundworld.
Christopher Burns‘ Come Ricordi Come Sogni Come Echi was written in response to the composer’s experience in realizing the electronics in Ms. Cuckson’s recording of Luigi Nono‘s La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura (Nostalgia for a Far Away Future Utopia). Burns’ title (like memories like dreams like echoes) refers both to the influence Nono’s piece and his work on the recording had on his own work. It is an intimate and detailed embodiment of the idea that artistic experience can often lead to the making of new art.
Alexander Sigman‘s VURTRUVURT is the noisiest and least abstract music on the program. The notes describe it as placing the violinist in an urban space, with automobile and truck sounds enhancing a sense of scene. The sonic explorations of the violin part grow out of the sounds of the electronics (which are often “variations” on the sound of the violin), interpolated with passages of traditional technique.
Ileana Perez-Velasquez‘ un ser con unas alas enormes (a being with enormous wings) has several elements which ties it to electronic music’s past, and I mean that in a positive sense. The electronic sounds are fixed—that is, the soloist plays along with a recorded accompaniment, as opposed to the live electronics that have mostly supplanted tape accompaniments. The sounds themselves, including recorded animal sounds and what sounds to me like filter sweeps, harken back to the past of electronic music. The violin part is urgent and alive, and is here delivered with that urgency intact.
The disc closes with Robert Rowe‘s Melting the Darkness, which flips the dynamic between violin and electronics–the violin part was written and recorded before the electronics were created. The title comes from a soliloquy from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the piece is very much like a soliloquy, with the electronics responding to the ideas stated by the violin. These ideas are impassioned and expansive, and Ms. Cuckson delivers them accordingly.
It is not “beautiful”; it is “pretty”. There’s a difference.—David Foster Wallace
The difference between “pretty” and “beautiful” is where the music on Melting the Darkness lives. Even if Ms. Cuckson doesn’t think of it in these terms, her career (and those of the composers she champions) is an exploration of this endlessly fascinating and important territory.