Graham Reid | | 1 min read
This probing, challenging and at times quite thrilling project by cellist Alexander Ivashkin -- with Ora Barlow and Kim Halliday of Pacific Curls) on various flutes, gourds, ukulele and other instruments -- is, in the words of Ivashkin, "an attempt to repeat Gauguin's voyage [to New Zealand] on a symbolic level".
The French Impressionist laid over in Auckland on his voyage around the Pacific so here we have music which evokes the ocean and spatial distance, Maori and Polynesian cultures, a sense of dark foreboding, and some (often lively) interpretations of Bach, Rimsky-Korsakov (that bumble bee is exceptionally busy) and Saint-Saens alongside a Fijian village choir and Isa Lei.
The 21 minute improvised opener sets the sonic scene (deep drums, eerie flute, scraping cello) and builds an engrossing momentum only to let it drift into an idyll which evokes days of languor under a Pacific sky. It is by turns deep and delightful, and speaks to a pre-colonial part of the spirit.
The use of traditional instruments is never gratuitous in this context (as it sometimes has been lately) but profoundly evocative and the cello adopts a fiddle-like sprightliness on occasion to conjure up the ship-board music of the day. But equally on the melancholy Moeteatea: Lament based on Russian folk and church songs and Benjamin Britten there is an aching and creaking quality as if the boards of the ship are groaning in sympathy with the emotional and spiritual disconnect the painter might be feeling.
The ukulele and vocals on Sisu Kohomau Hu Hui (with guest vocalist TuiMala Ma'afu) has it's gentle beauty deliberately undercut by the aching cello part.
This is not an easy project for the casual listener but there is great emotional depth here and by affording traditional Western and Pacific cultures the same performance space it speaks/sings with a musical multilingualism which is rare and precious.