In the careers of many musicians there comes a special moment when they suddenly realize that they are artists first, instrumentalists second. (For composers that transition signals the beginning of having something to say rather than making something to play.)
From the very first note of this fascinating collection, the ear is engaged and the intellect stirred. In “Green Valley,” cellist Wouter Vercruysse belies his youth, drawing an impassioned, confident tone and a human connection that immediately commands attention—his C-string rocks—before finally slipping away as the octaves dissipate.
Not surprisingly the composer, Armand Coeck—a first-rate guitarist who is equally adept in composition—is also Vercruysse’s mentor. Knowing who will play your music has a huge effect on both sides of the creative/recreative equation and in many of the tracks that close relationship lifts the result into a level of intimacy and understanding that any listener will appreciate with or without the knowledge of how these works came into existence.
Curiously, when the cello is joined by one guitar (e.g., “Ceres,” which can stand on its own without the Roman mythology “program” as guitarist Joris D’Haene’s impressive ability to seamlessly switch roles from soloist to accompanist and the strong emotional content which quickly washes away the infrequent flaw of the cellist being just a hair short of perfect pitch), the Spanish-tinged music brings a gallery of images to mind making this sort of writing well-suited for further expansion into the fertile mind of a choreographer; when a pair of six-string fretted instruments—Gino Herman completes the roster of performers—are melded with a smooth fingerboard and just four high-tension “wires” (the unabashedly romantic “Ballade”—with a hint of Grieg’s “Death of Ase” lurking deep in the melodic weeds) the soundscape cries out for a big-screen treatment to do justice to the wide variety of visual representations that the trio evokes; yet when left truly seul (most notably and delectably “Ave Nocturna”) the beautifully crafted lines—spun out with care by Vercruysse as the listener eagerly awaits the next forward push or mystical flight of fancy—slip comfortably into the realm of pure music where no other stimulus could add anything further to the inherent meaning.
“Madreselva” (Mother of the Forest, also solo cello) is a marvellous mix of lines that truly breathe (if only more string players knew that especial art) and near-tribal declamation that fades away so effectively that all that remains is the resin. In “Fantasie Concertante” Vercruysse lays down a solid bass line and gamely joins a conversation with D’Haene before the frenetic climax finds relief in spectacular silence that sets the stage for simple lyricism (and a few perfectly executed brush strokes) then leaves the music as one with a Walt Whitman oak tree.
The “Enchanted Woods” is a welcome intermezzo effectively interspersed with natural power. The closing “Rosa Mystica” (Coeck’s re-entry into the universe of composition after a three-year hiatus) lifts off with a stoic introduction then easily rolls along sporting a new-found confidence and a higher-range cello that has a vocal-like hue which could well have come from the Virgin Mary’s lips.
Many years apart—as measured in age—Coeck and Vercruysse are clearly cut from the same cloth. Here’s to the continuation of a musical partnership whose success only begs the question, How can you challenge each other to find your next creative plain? JWR