Allume

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Allume, Carrol McLaughlinAllume
Carrol McLaughlin, harp; Brian Luce, flute; Albany Records, 2013.
4.5 harps

With the freshness and spunk of Milot and Marchaud still rang in the air, I quickly switched gears to flute and harp duo Brian Luce and Carrol McLaughlin in their new Albany Records disc Allume. Warm and far more extroverted, at first listening I surmise “transcriptions/light classics” but soon change my attitude in hearing the carefully laid plan of repertoire, bravely placing a Gypsy violin encore to start next to a highly mannered flute sonata from the French Baroque. The juxtaposition made me sit up and take notice. “Where are we going?” I ask, “And how will I begin to hear anew this nearly cliché joined-at-the-hip ensemble?” Trust me. Their journey is a delightful one and I took it happily.

The title of the disc comes from one of Carrol’s original compositions inspired by a group of hand-engraved gilded illuminations by a group of Minnesota monks of the first letters of each chapter of the Bible. Though for Psalm 98, which speaks of music’s power, they went ahead and gilded the whole text, saying music is the voice of God. We hear what might be God’s very breath opening the work, followed by a waltz in modal harmony, almost Jewish in nature. All out in its praise followed by deep reflection, Luce and McLaughlin hold nothing back, completely melding in spirit.

Skipping ahead to another of Carrol’s compositions, “Lifted by Angels” expresses a series of remarkable experiences where Carrol found herself performing in three places struck by tragedy—New York, Indonesia, and New Orleans. Otherworldly and terrifying until the miracle happens and some lucky ones—friends and family of those Carrol had played for—survived. It is a scintillating piece from a gifted musician unafraid to experiment with sound and push the boundaries. I didn’t realize I had been holding my breath until the music of Piazolla burst forth on the next track. Perfection.

I was also struck by an arrangement of an accidentally overheard waltz by August Durand. The story of Carrol’s moments listening to a pianist warm up at the glittering Glinka Academy in St. Petersburg makes the journey even more enjoyable. Also enjoyable is Howard Buss’ “Seaside Reflections,” which he explains is about “swirling currents of liquid chaos” gathering “on the shores of eternity.” This is perhaps the finest playing on the disc, allowing the musicians to explore a kind of freedom in the beauty of sound.

Equally stunning is a processional of flutes—in this case Brian Luce overdubbed—in an original composition called “Immanuel.” Following in the footsteps of the collected sounds as they enter a sacred space gets to the heart of Carrol’s music making—joy, contemplation, and curiosity. •

Alison Young is a classical music host and producer at Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media. She left a successful career as a flutist a decade ago after she developed a neurological disorder, but before then enjoyed many years traveling the world giving recitals, performing concertos, playing with some of the finest orchestras, and recording her own discs. Nowadays, Young spins discs and is always on the lookout for the next best thing. You can contact her at ayoung@mpr.org.

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Alison Young is a classical music host and producer at Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media. She left a successful career as a flutist a decade ago after she developed a neurological disorder, but before then enjoyed many years traveling the world giving recitals, performing concertos, playing with some of the finest orchestras, and recording her own discs. Nowadays, Young spins discs and is always on the lookout for the next best thing. You can contact her at ayoung@mpr.org.

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