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David CHESKY (b. 1956)
Joy and Sorrow
Dora's Dance [5:19]
Concerto for Violin & Orchestra No. 3, ‘The Klezmer Concerto’ [21:37]
The Wiener Psalm [15:29]
Betty's March [6:12]
The Fiddle Maker [6:50]
Arbeit Macht Frei [15:18]
Artur Kaganovskiy (violin), Moran Katz (clarinet), Kristina Reiko Cooper (cello), Ethan Herschenfeld (bass)
The Chelsea Symphony/Yaniv Segal
rec. 2014, German Lutheran Church of St Paul, New York City
CHESKY JD371 [70:45]

I’ve always associated the name David Chesky with audiophile recordings, so I was intrigued to discover that he’s also a prolific composer and co-founder/CEO of music download site HDtracks. He studied with the composer David Del Tredici, whose Final Alice is a favourite of mine, and the pianist John Lewis. Chesky writes in a number of genres, styles and creative fusions thereof, including jazz and Latin American music. His work list includes exotic titles and adventurous combinations that will surely tempt the curious listener.

The genesis of Joy and Sorrow can be traced back to Chesky and conductor Yaniv Segal's visit to the death camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau. Clearly it was a deeply moving experience – Chesky describes it as ‘life-changing’ – from which these pieces spring. The album title is important too, for not only does this music speak of the unspeakable it also taps into an unbreakable and ancient spirit of communal celebration. Such is Chesky’s unerring sense of place and idiom in the darker pieces that the ghost of Mahler – who sensed and distilled so many of those traditions and sentiments – never seems too far away.

These may not be the most complex or captivating scores, but there's no doubting their sincerity; Dora’s Dance has a directness and a delicious lilt that's most appealing. The Jewish roots of this music are unmistakable, especially in the Violin Concerto – with Artur Kaganovskiy a firm, songful soloist – and The Wiener Psalm, with the bass tones of Ethan Herschenfeld at its plaintive core. I particularly like the celebratory pieces, whose easy, good-natured rhythms are really quite infectious; The Fiddle Maker is a prime example of Chesky’s skills in this regard.

The final piece, Arbeit Macht Frei, takes its title from the cruel sign that greeted new arrivals at Auschwitz. It’s a bleak lament – mainly for lower strings and muted percussion – that holds the ear and wrenches the heart. Chesky’s economy of style and his choice of register are just right for such dark utterances, as is the gradual sense of dissolution that haunts the closing bars. This plain but deeply affecting score has stirred my interest in Chesky’s other works, which I hope to explore in more detail soon.

Quite apart from its musical virtues this CD is of interesting technical interest as well. Its unique selling point (USP) is Chesky’s one-microphone Binaural + technology, aimed at spatially challenged headphone users. As someone who does all his reviewing on high-quality cans I’m a little bemused by this attempt to ‘improve’ my listening experience. While I accept that headphones can’t always capture the full sense of music in free space I’ve never felt the need for assistance in creating a believable, three-dimensional soundstage. Poor recording techniques are usually to blame for any aberrations. However, mindful of Chesky's audiophile credentials I was only too pleased to give this new tech a try.

My intial impression is that while Chesky claims Binaural + is a step forward its somewhat exaggerated stereo – sometimes with a disconcerting ‘hole’ in the middle – is actually a step backwards. There’s also a rather close, ‘shut in’ effect that reminds me I have something clamped to my ears; the best engineered recordings make me forget that. Make no mistake, this is a very decent recording, and it has tremendous presence; it just doesn't bring me any closer to the musical experience. Perhaps the benefits of this technology just aren't as obvious with small ensembles such as this; indeed, I'd be very interested to hear how it sounds with large-scale works.

David Chesky’s music is well worth your time and money; however, I'm not convinced by the disc's USP, Binaural +.

Dan Morgan



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