"...a blast a fresh island air..."
Isles of Dreams
Rachel Talitman, harp; Marcos Fregnani-Martins, flute; Laurent Houque, viola; Karolina Prieels, cello; Dirk-Michael Kirsch, oboe; and Heike Steinbrecher, English horn. Harp & Co., 2020.
It was not an easy summer for most of us. Travel was limited and performers experienced the cancellations of beloved music festivals, most in stunningly beautiful surroundings. So it was like a blast a fresh island air to pop in an outstanding new disc Isles of Dreams into my CD player of chamber music world premieres of music by German composer and oboist Dirk-Michael Kirsch, featuring harpist Rachel Talitman.
The CD begins with Açores—Suite caractéristique, a piece, at least in a utilitarian sense, inspired by Maurice Ravel, with the English horn part interchangeable with clarinet should the need arise to form a similar concert setting as Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro. In this case, however, it’s five voices – the sweetly fleet footed Marcos Fregnani-Martins, flute; mesmerizer in tones, English hornist Heike Steinbrecher; violist with a richly expressive tone Laurent Hoque; warm painter of dreamy landscapes Karolina Prieels, cello; and master weaver of all things musical Rachel Talitman, harp – creating a musical impression of the nine volcanic islands that form the archipelago far out to sea off the Portuguese coast. Cleverly, Kirsch matches the length of each vignette to the relative size of the individual islands, grouping them, with each instrument offering solo moods to the respective sections. Formal construction aside, the piece is all breathtaking beauty, much like the islands themselves boasting dramatically sweeping views of turquoise ocean and impossibly bright green fields from high atop narrow ridges, red tile roofed cities lined with masses of floppy hydrangea pompons nestled next to crashing waves often sending frothy fingers through sea caves. Açores, as played by this fine ensemble, is a vacation for your ears.
Other lovely additions to the repertoire are two works for flute, viola, and harp. Debussy got it right in that this combination provides shades of pastel and misty introspection that Kirsch uses to the fullest in his Trio Pastorale. Fanciful and playful, there’s just a hint of melancholy, like the day after summer solstice when we realize each day from here on will be getting shorter. Contrasting this is the more emotionally fraught Nocturnes introducing the softer, huskier alto flute. Even in the high register, this instrument presents a longing and dances with the others as if magnets irresistibly drawn to one another, but never quite touching. Some chilling ASMR-type sounds of clicking keys and overtones add to its mesmerizing quality.
Two glorious duets are the special sauce on the album including Pastorale for Oboe and Harp featuring the composer playing a simple melody, but as deliciously joyous as a soft breeze on a hot day. In contrast, …One Summer Day… for flute and harp is sassy and insouciant, slipping on short shorts on the first warm day of the year.
Isles of Dreams is an exquisite addition to the repertoire and well worth owning both for study and pleasure.