Arctic Aquarelles – Review

“Arctic Aquarelles” – Piano Meditations – Review by Kerry Barnes

Before I hear a note of Christel’s music, I know it will transport me to another world.

TRACK 1. “Far Away”

I’m instantly struck by the very first notes of the bass register, a repeated, haunting, almost ostinato like figure. So beautifully recorded, and it follows the trail to the end. I would just like to say at this point, that keeping a repeated note of this quality going, is very virtuosic on Christel’s part!!, and reminds me of a similar task that the snare drum player in Ravel’s Bolero had!! So, this bass is the perfect bedrock of sound to support the icicles of melodic thread, glistening in a silvery universe. The tone in this piece is flawless and even, and I’m a big fan of the reverb. The use of ‘silence’ and ‘fermata’ is tastefully done, as well as a feeling of distant hypnosis. Sometimes I feel as if the ice will crack beneath my feet, and I’m walking on ever thinning ice, but it’s ok as I am in a slight meditation of peace. Once again I am sound struck, but this time by an arctic ‘trill’ on the piano, quite unexpected, but very beautiful. I’m now being gently pulled away from this soundscape, starting to fade, and fade once more, until I am indeed Far Away. Stunning work Christel.

TRACK 2. “Perpetuem”

Straight in. No intro. So direct. Love it Christel!! A hypnotic state, and with the most beautiful Cantabile Tone I think I’ve ever heard!! The quality of this recording is off the scale!! I look forward so much to the first beat of every bar, with it’s obsessive, serious Continuo Basso like motif. I can hear complete desolation in these notes, like describing the aftermath of some apocalyptic happening. The demon intervals in the upper parts are so hard to play, but Christel makes it sound like child’s play. In some places it sounds like 3 hands at one piano. Am loving the ‘snagging on acciaccaturas’ like in Chopin’s Mazurkas but in a completely different way. Bravo Christel!!

TRACK 3. “Thinking of Gurdjieff”

I’m taking a bit of a gamble here, but I may believe this piece is based upon a theory of ‘waking – sleep’ by the philosopher Gurdjieff. I humbly apologise if I’m completely wrong!! There certainly is a state of hypnosis in the static positioning of the very bottom note of the left hand bass area. Christel loves doing this, and we love her for it!! I might try it in my own compositions!! Stunningly layered, I’m getting the 3 handed piano again?? …..and also again, I can’t tell you enough, but the recording quality of this pianistic sound is just ‘blissful’ …….I want some!!!! A piano from a heavenly abode. But what is most standout for me is the right hand passage work, blazing a trail of fast and dazzling semiquavers, with an unrivalled tone quality. Very filigree. I’m being transported in an almost Bach Fugue way, with a somewhat contrapuntal tapestry. Glistening. Christel holds our musical attention, right to the end, with a note of sheer beauty and ‘ad finitum’ length, on and on…..

TRACK 4. “Sunrise”

A yellow disc is rising from the sea. Beautiful harmonic languages begin to speak of a day full of promise. Christel holds an arctic buttercup with it’s brilliant golden hue, reflective and shiny. As I am mesmerising, the middle thickness of the piano, a glimpse of Ravel and Chopin, just fleeting though. A lovely, gentle bass, just pulsing, say’s “come rest on me, thou divine harmonies of sunlight, before I melt and you are no more”. Right at this very moment, I feel touched by the plight of polar bears, and my eyes are slightly wet xx. Thank you for the transportation Christel.

TRACK 5. “Ostinato”

Within just a few opening notes, Christel has me beautifully trapped in her musical web, drawing me in by means of a lone, silver thread of melody. With immediacy, a sense of ‘counterpoint’ brushes past me, and a hint of Bach’s Goldberg Variations gently touches my face with a caress only Anthony Hopkins would understand. A delicate pulse adorns a bewitching and repeated high note in the right hand, over and over, muted. A rather compact range of notation blesses us with this ‘ostinato’, until, eventually, and in closing, the fugal flower opens out and kisses softly the cheeks of ‘octave – unison’ ascents, fading and disappearing, unto our very ears. The power of minimalism!!

TRACK 6. “Star Gazing”

This track from Christel had me compelled to listen again, and again. Just too beautiful for words. In a midnight arctic sky, amongst the still and the calm, her very vital notes paint a constellation of fugal matter, for all to see. An even and flawless tone, gently raises me higher, then higher again to where her divine musicality really lives, on another planet! Through the telescope we witness mordents and trills, played beautifully softly, which trust me, is technically a skill to behold! The stars call and respond, trying to outshine each other, so bright, so magical! There’s so much to see here.
A beautiful assault on the senses.

TRACK 7. “Trance”

Literally, ‘an abnormal state of wakefulness, not self – aware and unresponsive’. However, I am very aware of what’s going on here. A chilling and cold breathy synth sound is the backdrop for the rest of the musical landscape. It inhales and exhales a frosty exterior. You must listen to this track with headphones on, because it will blow your mind!!!! ……..the right ear-shards of descending piano motifs, like icicles breaking free, left ear-mid range piano lyrical, warm, moving, played with such feeling and emotion. The contrast is captivating and fascinating. Christel dances this snowy waltz with a dashing and handsome arctic fox in his prime, skating in a winter wonderland, while penguins only observe, from afar. It starts to snow on what is left of this beautiful soundscape, until we can hear no more. Such stillness.

TRACK 8. “Dreaming”

Romancing the snow, in the sisterhood of the trance. As I listen to this ‘dream’, a striking visual art of Christel I see, emanating from a ‘vision of blue’ on her stunning Bandcamp page. Her beautiful face, looking directly at me says “come join me on this voyage of meditation” and of course, I do.This Aquarelle is a thing of much beauty, and her choice of notes kept within a compact range is dreamlike. The gorgeous, pulsating little left hand octaves provide the perfect support to the simplistic and clean lines of the melody above. Her cantabile singing tone is second to none!!! I am now singing this melody to myself, a private little ice-dance moment!! Thank you Christel.

TRACK 9. “Solitude”

This beautiful piano piece is in disguise. Made to sound so easy, yet it is very complex in it’s matter. There is indeed a ‘lone melodic thread’ to start, so sparse, so alone in it’s beauty, and it is indeed very beautiful. A solitary twinkle catches my eye, glistening it’s message. It very slightly ‘wrong-foots’ me with rhythm, is it four-four, is it something else?? I have to wait a little bit for it to settle in my musical mind. What’s coming I ask myself?? …….well it tries to go round again but is cut in half, Christel you are a wizard in this wonderment of timing. Suddenly we are enriched by a full toned and dynamic entry of what sounds like fugal matter to me……(she feels very comfortable playing beautiful counterpoint – I think Christel would excel in some re-recordings of Bach’s Fugues, and even Andrass Schiff would be mightily impressed!!) ……it moves with grace and emotion, I give an outward sigh, it touches me greatly. I’m following every note here. There’s masterful weight-balancing here too, bringing to the fore one musical idea in the middle thickness, whilst gently tinkering with all that surrounds it!! Incredible playing technique and a jewel in the crown of composition.

TRACK 10. “Walz”

I’m now in heaven. A peaceful, gentle, sun-kissed ice-dance.Even more beautiful is the fact that Christel has decided to ‘tie over the bar line’ beats 3 & 1 of the left hand. Now this gives the piece a ‘suspended in air’ feel which lends much lightness and grace. I can’t help but notice some gorgeous French twists here and there and a divine sprinkling of Ravel ( 2nd mvt of piano concerto)……I think I would love to be compared with the French genius!! Chilling and stunning, is the way I would describe the right hand melody, with a simplistic and sparse beauty that transcends words, really. Use of ‘pianissimo’ is expertly applied, especially in the dying arctic embers of the closing diminuendo, gentle chordal punctuations, softly spoken.

TRACK 11. “Still”

A hypnotic stillness embraces me, with it’s majestic and frozen gaze. A ‘delicato – pianissimo’ left hand, gently supporting all that is above it. Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum, as an ever growing magic beanstalk collects more and more melodic layering. Jack is conducting as they become more and more intense, elevated perfectly in this minor tonality that Christel has chosen. They weave with baroque intention, and their melodic beauty is unsurpassed. Living side by side, questions are answered, as they play the call-and- response game. There’s one little phrase of only about 5 or 6 notes which play in unison, hidden, yet there to be noticed, it was a gem for me!!!I think this piece is my absolute favourite too, along with all the others!!! How can I choose!!!!

TRACK 12 – Final. “Early”

Christel’s last day in her frozen wilderness has come. It’s early morning, and the day is dawning. As the first beautiful notes of melody appear, her eyes adjust to the light, and pause in between. She has now gathered herself, and warmly welcomes the break of morning. She is in reflective mood, and knows that her old fugal friend might never relax here tomorrow, so for today, it sings it’s most beautiful song. I note little ‘clashes’ of very small intervals like major or minor 2nds in the right hand, which beautifully illustrate the inner conflict she feels on leaving. Christel also knows to say goodbye to the yellow disc, rising from the sea. She drifts away from the ice and melting snow, and the piano leaves us in ‘dry’ pedalling mode, reaching up, almost silently, to the very last, highest note that turns the light off and says ‘farewell’.