Spring Quintet – Raven, Raven, Raven

What we have here is in fact quite a unique little collection of music. I use the term collection in that there are several individual parts at play, though perhaps collection is not a fair descriptor. Raven, Raven, Raven is quite actually a live record at heart. Recorded originally at Montreal’s famed Casa Del Popolo with a crew of talented string players, and even rhythmic textures on the tabla. These parts of a seamless whole were taken and rewoven by Italian sound artist Matteo Ugerri. Though we are left to guess at how much the final product strays from it’s original map, what remains still has the organic presence of a live performative work.

In the first slow movement we are surrounded by the sounds of rainfall. At first just rain and slowly perhaps we find it is in fact doubled, as in the sound of raindrops on water. Then slowly, as the second movement takes over, characters appear from within the storm. A gentle repeating bass bubbles up. Soon the haunted piano that steers the players appears in the centre of the frame. The piano lines are eventually doubled by a bass thump that climbs and descends with the piano. The rain begins again, renewed in strength. Now the piano melts into the background as a violin string line takes up the melodies of wandering.

The third movement features ghostly field recordings, like a late night news broadcast heard echoing out a window into the alleyway beneath. Giving hints of unrest, drama in some foreign land, made that much more difficult to make sense of as it flows in foreign tongue. Then just as the language nears being identified it morphs and a new voice, a new language emerges. The message is of universal stories desperate to be told, too many voices trying to raise above the din. One can’t help but feel a political urgency with Stefan Cristoff at it’s centre. Cristoff is known for his advocacy and active political discourse within local and international scenes. Often he uses the power of musical work to raise awareness, give voice to those unheard and a call to lift our eyes beyond our limited vision. This performance was originally part of a fund raiser to help gather support for indigenous peoples who have been pushed to the margins of society. In it’s own way the work presents us with a symphony of individual narratives, each in turn, raising their voice to further tell another layer of our communal story.

On the fourth movement what sounds like the wind howling through trees calls forth the main thrust of the piece. As it builds and burns at the centre the piano returns to accompany it on it’s journey. Half way through radio waves in another language distort and double over each other, harsh and staccato, slowly drained to only static, swelling in like a bow across strings. Suddenly more voices join, now in Spanish, now in Italian, suddenly a child’s voice is heard calling in the distance. Each of these characters individual stories swell into a larger whole.

The final movement has the violin and cello moving in tandem, slowly circling as the final sounds of voices fade into panning percussion, like the whisper of a drum. This movement wanes with the sounds of each player cycling down, slowly echoing out into the empty night.

Raven, Raven, Raven is out now on Whitelabrecs. It is helmed by Stefan Cristoff on piano, accompanied by Claire Abraham on Cello, joined by Fern O’Dactyl on Violin, supported by Peter Burton on Double Bass and driven by Will Eizlini on Tabla. The piece was reworked and reinterpreted by Matteo Uggeri. It’s available now digitally and on special vinyl-effect CD from Whitelabrecs. And it is of the riches and most rewarding of fare.