James McVinnie’s Cycles comprises thirteen organ pieces by labelmate and composer Nico Muhly. Performing the pieces in addition to McVinnie are Nadia Sirota, Chris Thompson and Simon Wall.
McVinnie is neither a stranger to Muhly’s music nor the label’s output, having collaborated closely with its artists throughout the years. What makes McVinnie such an ideal interpreter of Muhly’s music is that he and Muhly share not just an understanding of the capabilities of the pipe organ as a musical instrument, but also an equally deep understanding of, and even affection for, its limitations.
McVinnie speaks eloquently on behalf of his instrument’s potential. “The organ is like a grand symphony orchestra controlled by one person manning a series of keyboards and pedals, stops and buttons. On the one hand, an organ can imitate orchestral instruments—the ardent string section of an orchestra, a lyrical clarinet, a French horn, timpani—and on the other, it has its own indigenous magisterial voice. Organs are built to speak into specific acoustic spaces. When you play, it’s as if you’re playing the whole building you’re in, which often can be electrifying.” And the organ as an instrument is tied to centuries of liturgical practice, capable of supporting or imitating a church choir with a solemnity few others could hope to summon. McVinnie is quick to point out, however, that the organ is also “the ultimate and original synthesizer”—and it is nothing if not a mechanical, wind-powered synthesizer, with all of the uncanny falseness that that word implies.
Much of Muhly’s work aspires to a kind of pop-art superflatness. The organ’s mechanical sound, its resistance to subtle dynamics, work perfectly with this tendency in Muhly’s music—particularly filtered through McVinnie’s subtle registrations, the combinations of stops pulled out to create each timbre. For instance, in Muhly’s prelude for their mutual friend, the Rev. James Mustard, McVinnie gives the slow-moving harmonies a breathy warmth, but it’s through a sparkling, crystalline pane of arpeggios.
The symphonic, the acoustic, the sacred, the synthetic: there’s a little of each in every one of these pieces, and sometimes more than a little. Muhly’s Twitchy Organs pairs the organ with viola and percussion, but on this recording, the space is as much of an instrument as the pipes are. It sounds warm and grand and alive; it sounds like an ambient work for reverb-soaked synths; it sounds like a prayer. It is, in fact, all of the above.
released August 12, 2013
Organ: James McVinnie
Viola: Nadia Sirota
Marimba: Chris Thompson
Tenor: Simon Wall
All music by Nico Muhly
Recorded in Tonbridge School Chapel, UK on February 15 and August 16, 2012
Recorded, produced, engineered, edited by John Rutter
Special thanks to
Nico Muhly, Valgeir Sigurðsson, Nadia Sirota, Simon Wall, Chris Thompson, James Mustard, John Rutter, Pat Davoll, Paul Jeffery and everyone at Bedroom Community.
Bedroom Community is an Icelandic record label/collective formed in 2006 by Valgeir Sigurðsson, with Nico Muhly and Ben
Frost, later adding Sam Amidon, Daníel Bjarnason, Puzzle Muteson and Paul Corley to the intimate roster.
"...the best record label in the whole of Iceland and maybe even the entire world" -Drowned in Sound...more