“By focusing on fleeting moments captured rather than planned, the duo create something that is unlike either of them on the surface but is filled with their unmistakable spirit.” – Ian Maleney
Hilary Hahn plays classical music with a populist edge, never straying too far from the honesty of live performance and returning repeatedly to the Bach’s complicated-yet-logical work. Volker Bertelman, otherwise known as Hauschka, plays an instrument associated with the avant-garde of modern music, the prepared piano, but does it in a way that crosses over into modern pop and dance music. Despite the initial aesthetic differences, the blurring of traditional boundaries seems to be something of deep concern for both musicians and so it makes sense that they would find ample ground to collaborate.
Having spent two years meeting up for improvised sessions (classical musicians would never jam), the pair entered the studio for ten days without a single note written beforehand. The unedited product of their spontaneous labour is what you’ll find on the record. Hahn pushes her playing into more experimental areas than she ever has before, while Bertelman’s piano playing is often in a supporting role, more subtle and spacious in its preparations than one would find on his solo outings.
Opening track ‘Stillness‘ sees Hahn take the initiative early, with her glistening harmonics providing a sparse hint of melody over the rattles and thuds of Bertelman’s piano. The album’s centerpiece in many ways is the 12-minute ‘Godot‘, a fascinating expression of confidence from both players, who choose to play almost nothing for long periods. The various noises coming from the objects attached to the piano strings hold the track up, with slow and melancholic chords ring out in the distance. The violin alternates between total abstraction and heart-breaking melody, relying on subtle melodic changes and shifts in tone to relay emotion.
Things continue in much the same manner throughout and there is little to disrupt the mood. ‘Krakow‘ is the most straight-forward of tracks, stripped of all piano preparations and extended technique. The closing piece, ‘Rift‘ hints at the albums title, with Silfra being a lake in Iceland where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates almost meet. Hahn and Bertelman have said they see the place as a seam rather than a rift, a place where things come together rather than splitting apart. With this album, the two have managed to find the place where their own styles join, not seamlessly but with two distinct, yet complementary, characters. By focusing on fleeting moments captured rather than planned, the duo create something that is unlike either of them on the surface but is filled with their unmistakable spirit.
Silfra is out now on Universal/Deutsche Grammophon.