On Record – Vanessa Wagner: Mirrored (InFiné)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Vanessa Wagner has been quick to follow up her March release, Study Of The Invisible, where she thoughtfully compiled an album of modern piano music that might be described as ‘minimal’ but which led to a series of inventive and rewarding compositions, imaginatively sequenced.

Mirrored is a collection of studies for solo piano, largely contemplative spaces that leave plenty of room for meditation and a get-out clause from today’s fast-moving world. Normally a listener might associate piano studies with application of technique; functional pieces rather than emotive; but this collection is very much studies in the form of moods and mental images.

What’s the music like?

Introspective, yet wholly rewarding. Particularly engaging is Wagner’s selection of music by Philip Glass, well-chosen and beautifully played. The Poet Acts is a sombre, thoughtful piece, opening out like an uneasy berceuse. Etude 4 is very different, a turbulent and agitated piece generating a large amount of nervous energy. By contrast Etude 2 is a thoughtful contemplation with a hint of darkness, led as it is by the low left hand, before building to a forceful conclusion.

Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Solitude has a similar profile, though its plaintive right hand melody leads the way. Plaintive is also the word that could be used for Nico Muhly’s Quiet Music, though this has an inner power generated through a soft but meaningful chorale, which makes it sound like a deeply spiritual statement. Melaine Dalibert’s Six + Six has gentle undulations that go on their way in watery figurations, while Sylvain Chauveau adopts a still profile for the simple and meaningful Mineral.

Moondog’s Sea Horses is short but descriptive, an active piece flitting this way and that. A similar freedom is afforded to the right hand in Léo Ferré’s Opus X, where the melody is free to travel up and down in the treble as it wishes.

Does it all work?

It does. Once again Vanessa Wagner has chosen a logical and rewarding sequence of pieces, and her affinity with the music of Philip Glass in particular makes these compelling recordings. She has an unusual and vivid sensitivity for this music, creating many different keyboard colours in the course of the collection.

Is it recommended?

Yes – provided you also have Study Of The Invisible, which is the ideal complement to these pieces.

Listen

Buy

On Record – Vanessa Wagner: Inland (InFiné)

What’s the story?

After her Statea collaboration with Murcof, Vanessa Wagner turns to solo piano for this substantial anthology of pieces with a minimalist slant. It is a broad selection, from the established coffee shop soundtracks of Michael Nyman through to longer pieces by Gavin Bryars, Hans Otte and Pēteris Vasks. Wagner brings together different approaches from either side of the Atlantic, and in doing brings up a half century of albums for French label InFiné.

What’s the music like?

The key to the success of this album is in the planning. By bringing together different approaches Wagner keeps the interest level high, from short but poignant pieces such as Moondog’s Für Fritz (Chaconne in A minor) to Otte’s Das Buch der Klänge, Pt. 2, which has a tonal base but ventures quite a long way harmonically, as its ripples get more pronounced. The pronounced statement at the end serves of a reminder of the influence of Janáček on this area of music.

There are two pieces from Bryce Dessner, with Ornament 3 especially animated, bringing suggestions of Sibelius. The Etude no.9 of Philip Glass drives forward obstinately, its kinetic energy bracing if slightly clinical, but this is complemented by the short but descriptive Railroad (Travel Song) from Meredith Monk. If Michael Nyman’s The Heart Asks Pleasure First inevitably conjures up visions of an Italian coffee chain in the early morning, it is still given extra freshness here, Wagner giving Nyman’s arpeggios a flowing sweep and a really nice sense of space.

Gavin BryarsRamble On Corona hits some deeper set emotions as it works out, reminiscent of the Spanish composer Mompou in its pairing of intimacy and space, while Nico Muhly’s Hudson Cycle has a lovely, lilting syncopation that rocks gently.

The best is saved for last, however, the Latvian composer Vasks really casting a spell with the stillness and poise of Baltâ ainava (White scenery), a cold excerpt from his substantial piano suite The Seasons, serving as one of those ‘last pieces before sleep’.

Does it all work?

Yes, very well indeed. Wagner has a very sympathetic ear for music that has plenty to offer, getting to the nub of its meditative qualities but bringing out its positive energy too. Each composer holds their own, the result an authoritative and accurate look at piano music in the 21st century, showing how it is possible to write with both simplicity and substance.

Is it recommended?

Yes, in all sorts of different musical directions! Recommended to fans approaching from the more ordered classical direction of Reich and Glass, but also to those coming in from the more electronic approaches of Nils Frahm and Murcof.

Stream

Buy