LABELS: Nonesuch
ALBUM TITLE: The Cusp of Magic
PERFORMER: Kronos Quartet; Wu Man (pipa)
CATALOGUE NO: 7559 799 598
Commissioned by Kronos to mark Riley’s 70th birthday, The Cusp juxtaposes Chinese pipa (lute) with string quartet. Individual movements mix in further sound sources, with members of Kronos doubling on percussion instruments; the third and fifth movements originated in an afternoon spent playing with lead violinist David Harrington’s grand-daughter’s toys, the sounds of which Riley captured on his lap-top. Here the Kronos play some toys as well as using the pre-recorded sounds. Vocals also play a significant part: a section of the second movement showcases Wu Man’s voice, the third incorporates lullabies in English and Chinese, the fifth a recording of a doll ‘singing’ a Russian folksong. In the fourth movement the viola evokes the Indian sarangi, the fourth and fifth incorporate Joy to the World and The Sugar-Plum Fairy, the fifth seems to include recordings of bird calls, recalling Rautavaara’s Cantus Arcticus. Despite these disparate elements, Riley has created a cohesive whole. It’s a long way in form and methodology from his minimalist trance pieces, though echoes of them surface occasionally. Kronos and Wu Man serve him well.