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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’
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 +.