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Fridman nuit TTK0081

Maya Fridman (b.1989)/Maarten van Veen (b.1971)
Maya Fridman (cello)
Maarten van Veen (piano)
rec. 2021, Westvest90, Schiedam, Netherlands
Reviewed as a digital download from a press preview

There aren’t many classical recordings which are improvised and an even smaller number that aren’t on the bleeding edge of experimental music. Happily for Maya Fridman and Maarten van Veen, this new disc not only is such an exception but it is a resounding success to boot.

There is an uncanny rapport between the two performers but the success of this album resides in the fact that they appear to be very different musical personalities who feed off each other’s distinct energies. Van Veen tends toward the ethereal and numinous, Fridman more toward touching, keening, sometimes delirious melody lines. Each encounter sparks off a response in the other taking each piece further into unknown possibilities. The sense of spontaneous discovery is palpable. Listen to the way Fridman’s cello steals into Van Veen’s almost Messiaen like chords in No.XXV and wonder! It is wholly typical of their approach that the piece then switches round to become all about Fridman’s tentative, stratospheric line. Before van Veen, inspired by that flight of fancy, finds a pulsing rhythm which Fridman festoons with pizzicati. And so it goes on. Fridman even bursts into gentle, haunting song in the penultimate track, singing along to her cello!

This is most appropriate as Fridman delights most in the cello’s capacity to sing. Fridman seems so utterly natural in her command of her instrument and all its musical nooks and crannies that the variety of her contributions seems almost inexhaustible and yet always immaculately idiomatic as though she were playing with the confidence normally associated with years of familiarity with a written score. In fairness to both performers, there is no sense of a tentative dipping in of toes. What we get is no holds barred commitment to the inspiration of the moment.

The range of styles embraced is impressive – from neo-minimalism in the opening section to Bartók like stomping in No.XX. The second section shows off Fridman’s gift for plangent melody. These are analogies to give the reader some sense of what this music sounds a little like – none of these sections mentioned could ever be described as “in the style of”. Everything is spontaneous and original.

One of the great strengths of this album lies in the many quiet moments of communion between cellist and pianist where in hushed tones they explore the possibilities of the encounters between them. Throughout there is a directness of communication, between performers and to us the audience, that cuts through issues of modernity. I very much hope that those who normally turn away from contemporary music give this a try even if only on a streaming platform. I will be very surprised if anyone sampling it will fail to buy. This is heartfelt, tender, hypnotic music. Try section XIX which is as wrenching as anything in Shostakovich. Fridman and van Veen don’t do anything in half measures on this record.

Incidentally, the title refers to an Egyptian goddess of the sky and was inspired by a carving of her body covered in stars arcing over the earth. Van Veen, in his brief note included (Fridman provides equally stimulating more extensive comments), relates this theme to a sense of interconnectedness which he felt, in microcosm as it were, in the connection between Fridman and himself.

A real risk with improvised classical music is that ends up as reheated leftovers. On record, it is in competition with music on which composers have spent careful years of labour. This is what makes the freshness of inspiration here so cherishable. Similarly, it does stand up to repeated listening. Obviously, what we are listening to is the product of an editing process but even if this recording were to represent just 10 per cent of what was taped, what a ten per cent! In fact, I was left wondering if Fridman and van Veen had accidentally stumbled on another way to rejuvenate classical music. Improvisation was once at the core of classical and I have my fingers and my toes crossed that these performers will take their improvising into the concert hall. The thought of witnessing creative music making such as this live is a thrilling one!

I think these two musicians may have served up a modern classic. I have only heard two recordings from the TRPTK label – the first a beautiful and gripping Winterreise from Michael Wilmering - and have ended up awarding both Recommended status. Whatever it is that they are up I want to hear a lot more! As for this present release, I am thinking of my Recordings of the Year list.

David McDade

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