"Crimson Duo puts its virtuosity on display in fluttering pizzicati and bisbigliandi…"
Crimson Duo: Jaymee Haefner, harp; Matt Milewski, violin. MSR Classics, 2019.
Harp and violin inspired by the natural world; it’s a unique combination, and one that presents stunning new additions to the repertoire. The Crimson Duo—Matt Milewski and Jaymee Haefner—began performing together at a festival in Crested Butte, Colorado. Their latest recording Renderings is subtitled “a musical landscape,” each work paired with an image by nature photographer Luke Mislinski. The objective is for each piece to be “heard” through the lens of these evocative images. In some cases, it’s the performers using the visual inspiration to inform their playing of music from the past. Most exciting, though, are the works by living composers that connect in a more direct way with the photographs.
In 2016, the Crimson Duo performed Portuguese composer Patricio da Silva’s simply named Violin and Harp Music at the International Harp Conference. He calls it a postcard from California, though it’s paired with a shot from Utah’s Canyonlands—a road petering out at “the edge.” Crimson flirts with us, drawing us in with a confident, forward-looking jaunt in West is the Way, before doubt sets in, and Silva misdirects this joy ride with unexpected cadences, chromaticism and more exotic flavors. We definitely are No Longer in Kansas before Crimson relaxes into the groove of Hands On with sarcastic wit.
Kristen Soriano Broberg’s Flutter is based on butterfly haiku by Matsuo Bashō and ironically excerpted from a cycle In Search of Imagery. And yet, this stunning “ballet in the air” seems to burst forth with meaning when coupled with the photograph “Mists of Khote,” a melancholy scene of silhouetted trees shrouded in mystery, ethereal and ephemeral. Crimson Duo puts its virtuosity on display in fluttering pizzicati and bisbigliandi slightly out of sync until finally meeting in a jazzy embrace. It is absolutely blissful.
Crimson Duo commissioned Gary Schocker to write the two-mooded work Still/Nervous in 2017. Though obviously different, it’s not just tempo that distinguishes, but lyric lines next to percussive qualities that accentuate the virtues of each voice, voices that then pass these attributes back and forth in a playful, yet lighter-than-air game. Mislinski’s powerful photograph of sea birds coming straight at the lens, furiously beating their wings as they run on the surface of Puget Sound before the magnificent V of their wings set them free could easily fit the character of Nervous, though I like to connect it with Henriette Renié’s Scherzo-Fantasie. A student of Théodore Dubois, she was the only student in a class of all men and lived at a time when women simply did not compose. And yet, she persisted!
Milewski’s creamy-rich sound coupled with Haefner’s glossy and luxurious accompanimental command plus a singing line any harpist would envy, make for some delightful listening. This is especially apparent in Nino Rota’s sonata. Originally written for the flute, the violin timber is fresh and savory.
This CD is a must for those on the lookout for new works and new sounds, but I must admit I was not always clear on the connection of the artwork to the music. •