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Piazzolla: The Four Seasons; Lintinen: Cello Concerto

Trey Lee (cello)
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Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: May 2023
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Tim Oldham
Engineered by Mike Cox & Juan Moreno
Release date: May 2024
Total duration: 61 minutes 12 seconds

Kirmo Lintinen's cello concerto—first performed by its dedicatee Trey Lee in 2010—makes for a vigorous conclusion to this musical exploration of the ever-changing seasons.

The Past: In Schubert’s Lieder, nature as metaphor for the human condition is a prominent motif that has enhanced the visceral allure of the works for generations. Now, we go back in time with the Lieder as our guide to relive the natural phenomena of the seasons.

In Spring is brimming with the quintessential characteristics of the vernal season. It speaks of new beginnings 'in the first rays of Spring' that are accompanied by 'fair, blue bright sky … green valley … bud and blossoms'—in short, a season that evokes life and rebirth. Schubert manifests these attributes with the gentle disposition of the piano’s lilting accompaniment and the melody’s carefree flow. The singular moment of musical tension arises when Schubert modulates from D major to D minor, where man’s 'joy alternates with strife … and only love remains … and sorrow'. By highlighting man’s emotional intrusion into nature’s tranquility, is Schubert already alluding to humanity’s role in altering the course of nature?

Summer is the season of hot and sweltering days, but after dusk, it can also yield soothing relief. The Summernight alludes to 'cool breezes … blossom’s fragrance … beauty enhanced by the moonlight', all the while taking our minds off the oppressive heat of the daytime. Schubert begins with a recitativo here, as though to indulge in the balmy night air. It is only at the end that a brief but sublime tune finally emerges.

A sense of darkness and decline begins to take over as Autumn arrives. The bleakness is unmistakable, with 'autumnal chills … woods leafless … blossoms wilt', and even 'the stars have vanished'. Schubert employs these somber images to mirror the heroine’s bitter anguish over her lost love, pleading with heart-wrenching minor second intervals. Ultimately, winds 'blow cold over the hillside … so do the roses of love die', as the piano’s tremolo sweeps away the detritus of Autumn’s final farewell.

In Winterreise’s 'Frozen Tears', man’s tormented expressions of grief and bitterness cannot escape the chill of winter. 'Frozen drops (of tears) fall from (his) cheeks …' as they 'turn to ice, like the cold morning dew.' Schubert paints a frosted landscape with the spare and lightly punctuated chordal accompaniment in the piano mimicking droplets of water forming into icicles. Once again foreshadowing the state of our world today, human emotions interfere with Nature and 'well up, so scaldingly hot … as if you would melt all the ice of winter'.

The Present: Piazzolla’s Nuevo Tango style was known to have ruffled the feathers of Argentina’s tango establishment with its innovations in instrumentation, structure, and harmony. Composed from 1965-1969 after the city saw a period of intensive urban development, the Four Seasons of Buenos Aires is full of Piazzolla’s inventiveness and embodies the 20th century’s industrial rise.

Otoño porteño (Autumn)
Today’s world is powered by unrelenting progress and inventions, and simultaneously, by unbridled depletion of the world’s resources. Instead of allowing the natural retreat of Autumn to transpire, machines speed up the process to squeeze even more resources out of the land.The corrosive grinding of the bows are chainsaws razing the rainforest. A pensive lull amid the industrial hubbub only adds to the sense of futility—each time the line descends to a lower tone before the upheaval begins anew. As a final show of the carnage, the violins’ piercing strokes bring to mind the slash-and-burn agriculture that results in deforestation, air pollution, carbon emissions, and species extinction.

Invierno porteño (Winter)
In our avaricious pursuit of modern comforts, we consume the earth’s resources relentlessly. The warmth of the strings from the first note casts aside the chills of winter as though humanity has conquered the elements with its technology, culminating in a passionate pas de deux between the violin and cello. There is still a desire for a winter wonderland of sorts, but on our terms;the sparsely embellished coda hints at a snowy landscape, yet the final melody allows us to luxuriate in a radiant glow one last time.

Primavera porteño (Spring)
We now enter the season of hope and renewal. One can hear all the creatures awakening as alone figure starts to tango with various interlopers. The dance becomes one of pure joy and ecstasy, reveling in the affluence and extravagance of modernity. As is the tendency when a society reaches its apogee, moderation is abandoned and dissipation prevails. The dance returns in a more debauched manner, with its glissandos in particular resembling the primal screams of bacchanalians.

Verano porteño (Summer)
In the sultry days of summer, the vigorous celebrations of spring are now sapped of energy and trudge along at a languorous pace underpinned by a lumbering bass line. Conflicts emerge from the oppressive heat as opposing voices become more volatile with each entrance; a stubborn ostinato remains steadfast as others interject provocatively. The final acceleration descends into pandemonium as the cello obstinately plays off the orchestra’s pulse before a unison tremolo slides towards a point of no return.

A Future: Finnish composer Kirmo Lintinen regards himself primarily as a composer working in and often cheerfully intermixing genres ranging from jazz to classical. He has studied composition and piano at the Sibelius Academy, and has written a prolific body of work ranging from operas, concertos, chamber music, music for children to big band pieces for the UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra of which he has been a key figure as conductor and pianist. Among his numerous works published by Fennica Gehrman are concertos for piano, guitar, clarinet, accordion, tuba, and various chamber music pieces.

The concerto for cello and orchestra, dedicated to Trey Lee, is suitably representative of Lintinen’s eclectic style. His versatility is an ideal palette from which to paint apocryphal sonic landscapes located in a climate-changed future where the seasons as we know them are no more. This is an imaginary journey through four movements depicting a future arising from the effects of the environmental crisis. Still, we are not condemned to this future just yet; it is simply one that many fear may come to pass if the world continues down its current trajectory.

Inizio: Dystopia
This is a future that hopefully will only remain in our imagination. The orchestral opening depicts a dystopia ravaged by the forces of climate change: a toxic undulation passes between the wind instruments repeatedly above the syncopated trills and suspensions in the strings. Amidst this hellscape, the cello’s theme emerges and re-emerges as the central protagonist, struggling incessantly to rise above the gloom. Eventually, a precarious equilibrium is achieved. The orchestra’s pulsations shadow the cello’s growing agitation—pizzicato turns into wilder spiccato, which then becomes incessant double-stops, until …

Gavotte: Modulation/Mutation
Out of the bleakness, the Gavotte takes us back to the age of the Baroque, when nature was idealized by painters and poets, and the seasons were predictable. However, looking back into the past is only a short-lived respite, for beneath the surface, nature has already evolved: tonalities shift nimbly, dissonances brazenly interrupt, and the cello solo becomes more frenzied in velocity and amplitude. Mimicking the climate-induced mutations happening in nature at a molecular level, these modulations draw an aural picture of the environmental catastrophe that has unfolded.

Cadenza: Defiance
In the thick of the ecological morass, the voice of the cello is a symbol of defiance, with surging arpeggiated motifs throughout symbolizing an audacious rejection of our plight. Employing a polyphonic pizzicato chant, the meditative central section appears to pose a question: is this a metaphor for humanity’s attempt to overcome our past mistakes, or simply a struggle to survive? To contemplate these questions, a dogged metamorphic process with tortuous arpeggios finally extricates itself and gives way to a new horizon.

Finale: Salvation
By this point, we are in desperate need of a boost for exhausted souls. A folk-like dance character conjures up a life-affirming celebration, sustained by a driving rhythm with hints of dances such as a polonaise or bolero. There is still a reminder of the devastation around us, with a brief throwback to the apocalyptic austerity of the Inizio. However, perhaps it is the bucolic serenade at the heart of this movement that embodies the essence of this entire album—a touching moment of nostalgia that encapsulates our longing for an end to this crisis.

Trey Lee © 2024

An activist throws paint across a museum’s priceless masterpiece and the catalyst for these actions is made clear: a sense of alarm over the climate crisis. Such is the urgency that each year the behavior of nature’s four seasons is being distorted progressively beyond recognition. With the cello as a platform, I seek a sober yet trenchant means to tell the story of our seasons, and concurrently, create a musical narrative to account for how this crisis unfolds. This album is a journey across our world from the past to the present, and finally, to an increasingly plausible future through the prism of works by three composers from three eras. These works are expressions of human emotions that are open to interpretation and were not conceived to decry the climate crisis; however, I harness their emotive power to illustrate this story and to amplify this narrative when words alone do not suffice.

I want to thank all my friends who believed in this album and helped make this project possible.

Trey Lee © 2024

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