In Your Hands
Judah Adashi: My Heart Comes Undone; Bryce Dessner: Tuusula; Ted Hearne: Furtive Movements**; Jessie Montgomery: Duo for Violin and Cello*; Gemma Peacocke: Amygdala; Caroline Shaw: in manas tuas
Lavena Johanson (cello); *William Herzog (violin), **Jeff Stern (percussion)
Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0145 60:06 mins
This appealing debut album presents a selection of vibrant contemporary works for cello, all performed with real verve. Having trained at the Peabody Conservatory, Lavena followed a conventional route into classical chamber music before moving to Baltimore and becoming immersed in the city’s new music scene. This recording is a ‘time capsule of five years of my musical life in Baltimore,’ offering a snapshot of Lavena’s musical adventuring ‘off the beaten path’ and features something of a who’s-who of the hottest new American music.
The disc opens with Amygdala, an arresting new work for cello and electronics by Gemma Peacocke. Referring to the part of the brain responsible for the experience of emotion, the piece thrums and shivers with a rare beauty and features a commanding performance from Lavena. Other highlights include Jessie Montgomery’s surging and intricate Duo for Violin and Cello (with the excellent William Herzog on violin) and the album’s title work in manus tuas by Caroline Shaw. This glorious piece is based on a motet by Thomas Tallis, and reframes slivers of the original score as a slow meditation for solo cello ‘to capture the sensation of a single moment of hearing the motet’. This introspection is well-balanced by the blazing energy of Ted Hearne’s Furtive Moments for cello and percussion which receives a bravura performance from Lavena and Jeff Stern.
Something about the album’s presentation, including its sleeve notes, feels a touch overwrought, but this is otherwise a disc of subtlety and power which marks a thrilling new avenue of exploration for the cello.