Thirty-six Thousand Kilometers High

That’s the altitude of a geosynchronous satellite. That’s how far out in space I feel when listening to this latest music discovery. Okay, you’re right, the previous CD review had me reeling over contemporary harpsichord music, and now I’m raving this tops that. Maybe it’s the grand out and back loop through the cosmos that the music takes us. Maybe it’s last piece—so tranquil, so etherial, so evocative—I had to listen to it a second time right then and there. Maybe it’s the performance, and the recording, and every selection, all soaring at the edge of space, weightless.

Is this going to make the “desert island” list? It’s too early to tell, but it’s a contender. Sono Luminus does it again with another masterpiece in their catalog of Blu-ray audio recordings of carefully selected artists, their music, and superior audio engineering. As with other Sono Luminus Blu-ray releases, there’s a good booklet filled with informative liner notes, and a standard CD. Most Blu-ray releases only give you the Blu-ray disc. You’re limited to playing only from a Blu-ray player. Sono Luminus smartly includes a standard CD.

ZOFO is pianists Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi. They specialize in music written for one piano, four hands. ZOFO means, 20 Finger Orchestra, the Z standing in for a 2. (Guess that’s better than TwentyFO, or 20FO.) They often perform transcriptions of orchestra music for four hands, but if there’s something they want to perform that hasn’t been transcribed, they make their own arrangement.

The first piece on the disc is “The Milky Way,” a piano sonata in two movements by Urmas Sisask. The first hints of extraterrestrial suggestions are heard when you realize two of the four hands are not at the keyboard. As if a long armed alien were playing, one pair of hands is working inside the piano—strumming, plucking, hammering, damping—creating unearthly sounds. One sound I have never heard from a piano is a giant gong-like sound, but deeper, more resonant, ominous, galactic. The middle section of the second movement bares a curious binary relationship to the last piece on the disc before it returns to the main theme from the first movement. Then it fades away leaving us stranded in the emptiness of interstellar space. Here’s a sample from cut #1, best listened to with a pair of good headphones—built-in computer speakers will not reproduce the very low frequencies, losing the effect.

“The Milky Way” I :

The CD’s major work is Holst’s famous symphonic suite The Planets, a movement each for Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. (Written before anyone knew of Pluto, but then it’s been demoted from planethood, lucky for Gustav.) Each portrays the mood and character of the Greco-Roman gods as rendered in music by Holst. It’s a whirlwind tour of the solar system in 45 minutes. By the end of Neptune we’re abandoned in realms where time is measured in centuries. Interesting to note, Holst’s original working score for The Planets was written for piano, four hands (Neptune, though, for organ, which plays an integral role in the orchestral version.) Holst also wrote a four hands/two piano version. ZOFO performs their own interpretation drawing from all three scores.

Next are two pieces from the forth book of George Crumb’s Makrokosmos, Celestial Mechanics, “Alpha Centauri” and “Beta Cygni.” These works take us out of the comfort of our system to stars exotic and bizarre, lightyears from home. More internal manipulation of the piano strings, more energy, more mystery, more of the violence in the lacuna stretches of the heavens.

We are brought back to earth by “Gravity,” a short piece by David Lang to finish off the concert. It’s a gravitational lensing image that mirrors “The Milky Way” and spirals us serenely back through our atmosphere, landing us on terra firma with a gentle bump. Listen :

“Gravity” – David Lang :

(||) Rating — Music : A ║ Performance : A+ ║ Recording : A+ ║
 ZOFO, ZOFOrbit : A Space Odyssey, Sono Luminus, 2014

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