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Ketil Biornstad and David Darling: The River

You could say The Sea (ECM 1545) created The River from what pianist-composer Ketil Bjornstad describes as “a becalmed duo moment.” With cellist David Darling joining him from that previous quartet, the duo’s improvisations are inextricably in the ECM tradition that combines neo-classicism and neo-romantic sensibilities. Bjornstad also invokes late Renaissance British composers William Byrd for parts I and III, ant Orlando Gibbons for the final section of his 12-part suite.

The River distills the textures explored in The Sea. Where the earlier suite captures the extraordinary tug, ambience, and power of oceans, The River suggests an earthier setting. One qualm poses whether or not themes of this sort ought to be couched in such extended forms, given how The River is far more monotextural than the earlier work, its impressionistic proclivities focused on one or two moods, it seems, reminiscent of lingering beside a river or in a lull aboard rowboat or canoe. Listeners can then imagine whatever riverscape they please to fill in the setting. There are obvious possibilities for program application for this calming music, perhaps. But quo vadis?

Originally Published