Saturday, December 08, 2018

Alexandra Stréliski, Gonzales

Alexandra Stréliski – Inscape (Secret City)
Gonzales – Solo Piano III (Arts and Crafts)

It’s a good time to be a classically trained solo pianist. Look no further than last month’s Polaris Music Prize, where the big cheque went to Jeremy Dutcher’s opera-inspired reimagining of the music from his Indigenous roots. Also on the shortlist was Jean-Michel Blais, who managed to silence a talkative crowd at the gala with a spellbinding instrumental performance. Internationally, Nils Frahm and Ólaf Arnalds play in big halls to audiences who don’t normally go to see classical performances.

Some credit for this wave has to go to Chilly Gonzales, the Canadian expat to first Berlin and then Paris (and now Cologne), whose 2004 album Solo Piano was a runaway hit in France, and made considerable waves elsewhere in the Western world. Gonzales is a restless musical searcher who dabbles in many genres—including a guest turn on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories—but has returned to the Solo Piano concept now for the third time. As he should: on much of his other works, his versatility is both a blessing and a curse. When he sits alone at the piano, however, playing with equal parts subtlety and gentle flourish, the depths of his talent are focused entirely on one instrument, in one style. As he has deepened his connection to the classical world—his 2015 album Chambers was made with the Kaiser Quartett—his writing is less whimsical, more mature. After years spent building his reputation as a joker, Gonzales is being taken seriously and has stepped up his game.

Alexandra Stréliski is a Montreal pianist and composer whose second album, Inscape, contains several songs that appear in the HBO mini-series Sharp Objects, directed by fellow Québécois Jean-Marc Vallée; she’s also worked with him on Dallas Buyers Club, Demolition, and Big Little Lies. For all the talk about the new wave of Quebec directors running away to Hollywood and leaving the domestic industry behind (hello, Denis Villeneuve), the ongoing collaboration between Vallée and Stréliski is heartening. It’s also led to streaming numbers in the multi-millions.

As to be expected, Stréliski’s composition and gentle and meditative, designed to be both evocative and transparent. There is a mournful melancholy throughout, a darkness underneath the beauty; few, if any, of these songs will be soundtracking sentimental rom-coms. In a crowded field of pianists, this record stands out. (Oct. 5)

Stream Gonzales: “Prelude in C Sharp Minor,” “Famous Hungarians,” “Present Tense”
Stream Alexandra Stréliski: “Plus tô,” “Par la fenêtre de Théo,” “Burnout Fugue”

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