Roughly five years since first appearing in these pages (cross-reference below), Wouter Vercruysse has taken the next bold step in his career by sharing three works of his own creation to lift off Folies de Flandre: Triptych for Cello.
The trio of solo compositions remind one and all as to how globalization is not confined to markets, media and popular culture.
Like many before him, the composer-cellist looks back generations to find snippets of melody, texture and tone then adds his own very personal stamp while weaving the disparate parts into an entrancing whole.
The Flemish folksong that begins “Bird from Isfahan” pays homage to a time long ago (replete with Bachian, expertly executed double stops, before magically morphing into a much more intensely melodic segment—a wee quotation from Guillaume de Machaut forms the basis—whose varied echoes provide an enticing shade to the overall palette of singular sound. From there Vercruysse serves up a marvellously agitated far-ranging section (Bach’s cello suites working their way into the mix—all anchored by a radiant and robust C-string) before calm once more returns and a curious hint of Tchaikovsky slips by almost unnoticed; the second stark unison bids a quiet adieu.
Initially, “Ijslandvaart” offers a crackling, harmonic cool before sliding, vrai tears shift into mocking cries, answered most optimistically by vibrant pizzicati and then confident lower-register declamations. Most certainly Vercruysse is comfortable in his skin—simultaneously creating and recreating flights of fancy. Effective use of a low pedal while the “action” moves about octaves above—and was that a momentary exclamation of ecstasy?—keeps the ear engaged and the emotions ever-alert. A heady dose of tremolo is quickly soothed by the return of the opening measures before a deft bit of punctuation signals unequivocally that time is up.
Not content with seeing cultures past through present-day instrument and eyes, “Giantesque” is built on the Arabian maqam with its “bent” note scale and demand for constant variation. With his cello now sporting new sonic clothes, listeners will delight in the array of additional colours. Akin to a Czardas, the music turns playful then accelerates into a frenzied flurry where joy wins out and (the finale of Beethoven’s “Pastorale” Symphony comes immediately to mind) the international celebration ends “all smiles.” If only the real world could do likewise.
Robrecht Kessels’ excursion to Cuba is a marvel of first-rate orchestration and heartfelt emotion. “Sailagotro” adds Alexander Besant’s wonderfully understated piano anchor over which Vercruysse and fellow cellist Ann van Hecke render the yin and yang of the lines (from bold rhapsodic declamations to quiet contemplation, peppered with guitar-like pizzicato: dollops of Heitor Villa-Lobos and Joaquin Rodrigo flit about the concoction).
The following “Tringo” is a delectable ménage à trois with cellist Renaat Ackaert replacing the piano. The movement is an ever-engaging model of homogeneity as the string trio works through the reverent, prayer-like opening into the sultry, seductive realm of tango—at full speed and tantalizing slow motion—before reaching ever higher, higher…
The ballad-like “Pionago” brings Besant back to the stage; the ear is intoxicated with a “simple” waltz that brings new meaning to the term “entre amis.” Musical friendships such as these are all too rare in our world that seldom provides enough time to “smell the roses.” Merci mille fois. Somewhere, Astor Piazzolla is grinning from ear to ear.
Armand Coeck’s special understanding of Vercruysse’s musical personality and technical skills makes the opening “Saudades” (cross-reference below) a highlight. The early ebb and flow along with the performer’s quiet confidence throughout the legato lines is spellbinding. The music is ideally balanced, winding its way through a bit of Spanish caprice before a solitary pizzicato calls the faithful home like a distant church bell.
Vercruysse then transforms himself into Coeck’s swan in the early measures of “Fantasia.” Two guitars (Micheline Dumortier and Joris D’Haene) infuse much art and colour to the canvas. As the drama heats up (now menacing guitars pitted against the heroic cello), the vivid result cries out for a film treatment. Role reversal paints yet another hue as one guitar sings followed by a soaring cello. Differences solved, the coda absolutely defines “all is well,” requiring just one sigh of joy to complete this fantastic journey.
“Cantus Angelorum” features a finely crafted, introspective opening from the solo guitar, inviting the others into a collaboration that positively radiates warmth. Coeck then employs register change-ups to reinforce the melody topped by a virtuosic change of register from Vercruysse leading all into the heavens above. The gentle adieu is rendered with care; perhaps the final pizzicato might slip off the score to allow the compelling feeling of inner-reflection to linger longer in memory.
The disc completes its musical retrograde with an arrangement from Coeck of Johannes Ockeghem’s “Ma Maistresse.” Its somewhat regal tone (once more for cello and two guitars) and quiet devotion—replete with a singular touch of coquetterie—ideally underscores illicit pleasures of the flesh. Indeed, the timeless expressions of human desire bind all of the music together into a deeply satisfying whole.
Finally as the icing on this multilayered cake, Peter dePELchin’s appropriately black-and-white artwork (notably saving his rendition of the “triptych” for the inside; the remaining colours, of course, overflow the tracks—the wrapper tempts with a more eye-catching orange) offers a visual feast that is at one with the music. JWR