Published Jan 08, 2020It is not difficult to imagine that in a different pair of hands, this collection of six works by Victoria, BC-based composer Anna Höstman could make for a difficult listen. The lack of linearity in her writing is striking; she seems to delight in surprising listeners as the music twists and turns itself into big beautiful knots.
Thankfully, Höstman chose long-time collaborator Cheryl Duvall, the highly regarded Toronto pianist, to partner on Harbour, and the result is mesmerising. Duvall is a lover of experimentation in music, and so even as she tends toward a more delicate presentation of these six pieces, she has sufficient range to do Höstman's detailed work justice.
The album opens with the 2012 composition "allemande." Moderately paced, as the title suggests, it is one of the album's more spacious works; it's a weekend stroll, taken at a pleasurable pace and with no destination in mind, an end in itself.
The title piece comes next; one of two on the album commissioned and premiered by Duvall. (The other is one of the album's three 2019 works, "adagio.") At close to 26 minutes, "harbour" sheds light on the depth of the Duvall-Höstman creative relationship.
Another of the album's highlights is "late winter (for the left hand)." This one was commissioned and first performed by Adam Scime as part of his Canadian Piano Left Hand Commissioning Project. Scime broke his right hand last winter, and so launched the undertaking in part to keep himself active through the healing process.
It is the kind of major work that will attract serious lovers of new classical music. Where Höstman is understated, Duvall delivers a beautifully gentle performance. Where the material demands a heavier hand, we get that too. (Redshift)