So Many Things
Kate BUSH (b. 1958)
John ADAMS (b. 1947)
Am I in Your Light? [5:25]
Caroline SHAW (b. 1982)
Cant voi l’aube [4:35]
Colin JACOBSEN (b. 1978)
For Sixty Cents [4:42]
BJÖRK (b. 1965)
Cover Me [3:47]
Nico MUHLY (b. 1981)
So Many Things [11:54]
Anders HILLBORG (b. 1954)
Brad MEHLDAU (b. 1970)
Love Sublime [5:17]
Elvis COSTELLO (b. 1954)
Speak Darkly, My Angel [4:53]
STING (b. 1951)
Practical Arrangement [4:52]
Rufus WAINWRIGHT (b. 1973)
Les feux d’artifice t’appellent [5:54]
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano)
Brooklyn Rider: Johnny Gandelsman (violin), Colin Jacobsen (violin), Nicholas Cords (viola), Eric Jacobsen (cello)
rec. Systems Two, Brooklyn, New York, August/September 2015
NAÏVE V5436 [64:00]
During three decades of her recording career, Anne Sofie von Otter has constantly sought new challenges. She has examined a variety of genres: baroque and contemporary, opera and sacred works, German, French and Nordic songs, French chansons, jazz and music from WW2’s concentration camps. On her latest disc, she takes us on a ride through songs from the last 25 years, composed by musicians with feet in several music camps. I do not think that “crossover” is an adequate label. It is rather music that eludes labelling. There are so many things.
As travelling companions, she chose the four broad-minded string players who call themselves Brooklyn Rider. Together they sorted out a dozen songs by contemporary singers/songwriters, who between them cover many different corners of the musical landscape. Music means different things to different people. Sometimes one encounter songs that click at first hearing. Sometimes one needs to hear a song several times before it opens up, sometimes it never does. The common denominator in this programme is that all the songs clicked with both Anne Sofie von Otter and Brooklyn Rider.
The opening number, Pi by Kate Bush, first performed in 2005, is about a man “with an obsessive nature and deep fascination for numbers and a complete infatuation with the calculation of Pi”. In an interview Kate Bush says ”I really like the challenge of singing numbers, as opposed to words, because numbers are so unemotional as a lyric to sing and it was really fascinating singing that. Trying to sort of, put an emotional element into singing about...a seven...you know and you really care about that nine.” I believe that the suggestive motoric accompaniment is a kind of equivalence to the unemotional nature of the numbers, while Anne Sofie’s honeyed voice on top of the strings still communicates emotions.
Am I in Your Light? is a song from John Adams’ opera Doctor Atomic, also from 2005, incidentally. I have had a weakness for Adams ever since I first heard Nixon in China more than twenty years ago, and this song appealed to me very much.
Caroline Shaw wrote the music for Cant voi l’aube specifically for Anne Sofie von Otter and Brooklyn Rider. The text is an anonymous French trouvère song from the 12th century. The original music is lost, so Ms. Shaw felt free to set the text in her own voice. So here the 12th century meets the 21st. The next song is also tailor-made by Colin Jacobsen, who plays second violin in Brooklyn Rider. It is a swinging affair, a setting of a short story by Lydia Davis, which explains that sixty cents for a cup of coffee is not as expensive as it seems, considering what else you get besides the coffee.
Björk is represented by two songs, Cover me from 1995 and Hunter from 1997. Both deal with hunting: “I’m going hunting for mystery” Björk says in Cover me¸ “I’m going to prove the impossible really exists”. And there is a mysterious atmosphere in the accompaniment. Nico Muhly wrote So Many Things for Anne Sofie von Otter and pianist Emanuel Ax in 2013. Here it has been arranged for string quartet. By far the longest song on this album, it consists of three poems, a longer one by Joyce Carol Oates sandwiched by two of C.F.Cavafy. Anders Hillborg, von Otter’s compatriot, set in 1994 Eva Dahlgren’s Kväll (Evening) for voice and violin or trombone; here it is also arranged for string quartet. It is a beautiful song with a beautiful text.
Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau and Anne Sofie von Otter have collaborated before in mixed repertoire, as well as on a disc with his own music. Love Sublime is one of the real highlights on this new disc. Elvis Costello—his real name is Declan Patrick MacManus—is another artist Anne Sofie has worked with. They made an album in 2001 titled For the Stars. Speak Darkly, My Angel was composed in 2006 for Anne Sofie and the Brodsky Quartet.
Two more greats round off this multifaceted disc: Gordon Sumner, better known as Sting, and Rufus Wainwright, whose songs have immediate melodic appeal.
What is so remarkable about Anne Sofie von Otter is her ability to assimilate so many different styles and make them her own. Nowhere on this album is there a sense of a classically schooled singer who tries to incorporate music from another world in her traditional way of singing. She adjusts her way of singing to the material in question—and it sounds natural. The cooperation with Brooklyn Rider is also a stroke of genius; they match each other to perfection. Whatever musical camp you think you belong to, you will find lots of music here that you did not know you liked. So grab the opportunity, follow Anne Sofie von Otter and Brooklyn Rider and go hunting for mystery.