Hesitancy, or possibly abstract detachment, might describe the communicative mode of Mark Ellestad’s Discreet Angel. Instead of passages, we are presented with spaces between notes, plucked one or two at a time by guitarist Cristián Alvear. At just over 20 minutes in length, this is the second longest work presented. I’m reminded of Linda C. Smith’s music, or Martin Arnold’s. A more active middle section buoys one along on something more like a quiet brookside walk in a treed ravine, following the sleepy spring dawn.
Sigrid features Ellestad performing this short work on Hardanger fiddle and pump organ. Disagreement between pitches seems almost to be the point of the thing, the reed organ tuned one way and the fiddle strings another. Underlying the plain chorale is the ceaseless counter rhythm of the foot pedals, pumping the organ’s bellows full. Imagine Ellestad bowing and pedalling simultaneously while elbowing the organ keys (or more likely overdubbing). It’s pretty and quirky.
In the Mirror of this Night, a duet for violin and cello, weighs in at nearly 46 minutes. Opening in a misterioso unison (well, in octaves) passage, the chant-like melody spins beautifully in tune, senza vibrato, then begins to refract into parallel pitches, sounding sometimes almost like the pump organ. It’s a workout for the attention span, or a soundtrack for meditation.
Canadian Ellestad (b.1954) abandoned composing for nearly 20 years; he wrote these pieces in the 1980s and 90s but never recorded them to his satisfaction. He’s now brought them to light, encouraged by the quality of performance of his collaborators. Kudos especially to Mira Benjamin (violin) and Anton Lukoszevieze (cello, as well as the cover art).