REVIEW: Bruno Heinen / Camerata Alma Viva - Changing of the Seasons album launch at Lauderdale House

Camerata Alma Viva with Bruno Heinen ( piano) and Andrea di  Biase (bass)


Bruno Heinen / Camerata Alma Viva - Changing of the Seasons album launch
(Lauderdale house 25th February 2017. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

A lone violin searchingly plucked, quietly joined by a viola, and then a cello, as pizzicato builds and layers: the opening grand piano flourish of the first four bars of Vivaldi's Spring theme is perhaps an unsurprising opening to Bruno Heinen's re-interpretation of The Four Seasons. And yet it is to prove the last unsurprising moment of the evening, because from then on, Vivaldi's original is largely left by the wayside, and instead, the weft and warp of jazz and classical composition are woven to re-imagine the four source poems on the theme.

The strings of Camerata Alma Viva stretch out languidly in the spring air, as the piano presses on. The sweeping dynamism, and marriage between strings and the improvising lead instrument feels at times more Lars Horntveth Norwegian cross-over, then Italian Baroque. Aside from the initial pizz. pitter-patter, and the accompanying sense of slow and steady growth, Heinen has taken a much less programmatic approach to the seasons, drawing on textural palettes instead of literal allusions to convey each season.

Summer tinkles tentatively, and skittishly – the dry squeal of strings, tired and drawn out between meandering and stifled keys evokes eerie heat. Deflation and exhaustion give out with occasional moments of triumphant unison, but this is certainly a sweltering summer of “blazing sun” and “scorched pine”, with plenty of space left between the improvising piano and string chords led by Charlotte Maclet on first violin. If Disney's Fantasia were to be re-made today, Heinen's baked drought-stricken season would be a strong contender to match to the Rite of Spring when choosing music to which to set the mass dinosaur extinction.

The suppressed panic is transformed to angst and hope, Heinen waiting in silence as the strings develop the short motif of Autumn, anchored by Kay Stephen and Mathieu Foubert on viola and cello. A storm brews, with the organised string lines fraying, blown off course, losing synchronicity and splitting into separate components before uniting and swelling to a crescendo – the small group sounding much richer than the sum of their five strings and piano.

It is maybe in Winter that the overtones and language of jazz seep in to the composition most strongly. A sombre, almost fugal, start on viola leads in to dramatic long sweeping melodies, before a riff between Heinen and his long-time collaborator Andrea Di Biase on double bass; the jazz mole in the classical Camerata.

It is the final movement of Changing of the Seasons which ties in closest to the opening set of the evening, Heinen solo at the piano taking us through an ad-libbed programme of contrapuntal rolling hands and clean pauses: bright, earnest Wayne Shorter adaptations; the disturbing, nagging original piece Mr Vertigo, and a beautifully pulsing and wistful interpretation of Jimmy Rowles' cinematic The Peacocks.

Finding a new angle on the Four Seasons in such a crowded field is always a challenge, but Heinen's delicate mix of composition, and the space left between himself and the string ensemble, have left a worthy and unique contribution. This is the product of a jazz pianist with a classical training and culture coursing through him. The partnership with such an open-minded ensemble, means the five strings live can produce a vibrant sound equal to the twelve strings of the record is testament to the composition and arrangement.

P.S. It is worth noting that, with Arts funding continuing to suffer, this was an evening based solely on collective crowdfunding. It is unusual to enjoy to the re-imagining of the first ever 'concept album' nearly 300 years after it was written, in a renovated room first built more than 400 years ago, but both the production of the record, and the neat recent renovation of the 16th century Lauderdale house were achieved through the small contributions of the many. Since my last visit to LH in April 2015 when they were still fundraising for the forthcoming planned works, the building has been successfully restored. The peg holes, bent nails and working marks on the timber post-and-beams combined with the authentically messy pointing on the infill panels make you feel like you've been bricked in to some sort of Tudor musical cave. The occasional ionic capital on a column adds a baroque frisson.

LINK: Bruno Heinen previewed this concert for the Guardian

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