20 for 2020
Avie AV2561 (avie-records.com)
While in the heart of the 2020 pandemic, Israeli-American cellist Inbal Segev commissioned 20 works from some of today’s leading composers – some with whom she has worked before – asking them to document their responses to the challenging times. With this collection of mostly new compositions it is nearly impossible to speak on every piece but suffice to say there was not a single track on this double CD set that I was not moved by. There is a richness to the selections that are innovative and challenging, but still beautifully accessible.
The complete work is an exploration of dark and light, of despair and joy, not only documenting the many layered issues around the pandemic and isolation, but also world events in general. With two CDs of chamber-style compositions, it is worth noting that Segev’s choice in composers represents a diversity of time and cultures. With the youngest (Sophia Bass, b.1996) to the most established (“the most obscure great composter of our time”) Gloria Coates (b.1938) this album is essential listening for any lover of contemporary classical music, not just the cello. I was hooked from the first track, Room to Move by Viet Cuong, a cathartic, sweeping work written for octet played entirely by Segev, splitting the eight parts between two cellos, her 1673 Ruggieri and her modern 1957 Becker, to add nuance and colour to the different parts. This piece had me dreaming of being a circus hoop performer. From here, Fernando Otero’s first movement of a Cello Concerto revised here for cello, string quartet and bass is a challenging work “infused with tango and jazz.” James Lee III’s Ekah, a heartbreaking lament on how there can be so much hate in the world, ends with a stunning prayer. The whole piece is surely destined to be a recital feature. Complex pizzicato work in Timo Andres’ Agita is followed by Sophia Bass’ mesmerizing piece Taal-Naad Naman for cello, tabla and tanpura. Bruce Wolosoff’s Lacrymae for cello choir was again overdubbed solely by Segev, in true pandemic fashion. Jazz pianist Vijay Iyer’s The Window exposes the powerful complexities of hope while avoiding sentimentality. Christopher Cerrone’s The Pleasure at Being the Cause is a minimalist play on simultaneously holding and moving, as was the constant during the pandemic. The first CD ends with Puerto Rican composer Angélica Negrón’s Ruta Panorámica, a delightful road trip complete with traffic and road sounds for cello, bandoneon and electronics.
The second CD is just as varied, again each composition is uniquely noteworthy. Though there is simply ot space to recognize the beauty of every track, standouts for me included composer and environmental activist John Luther Adams’ A Weeping of Doves, Molly Joyce’s It Has Not Taken Long, Immanuel Wilkins’ Exhale, a speeding, breathtaking saxophone-style solo that is so relentless one can only wonder how Segev manages to pull it off, and Stewart Goodyear’s wonderous Kapok, which packs a powerful ending to the project. The bonus encore of Segev’s own composition Behold, for cello quartet, adds yet another work to the cello ensemble repertoire.
Segev’s tone throughout this challenging project manages to be every colour imaginable, while both clear and vibrant, and warm and dark. The entire double album encompasses a stunning display of fireworks and gentleness. That so many of these works will surely be iconic mainstays of the contemporary cello repertoire, for those who dare to take them on, is a testament to the leadership and investment in the cello repertoire from this great artist.