Lubomyr Melnyk - Fallen Trees

A Closer Listen

The Lubomyr Melnyk story is one of the best in music, a sonic parallel to that of J.K. Rowling with more than a touch of magic.  After a lifetime of making “continuous music,” the Ukrainian pianist entered the public eye in 2013, courtesy of Erased Tapes.  He’d been penniless, homeless, “deeply broken hearted,” reviled by the occasional critic who stopped in to hear “the fastest pianist in the world.”  Now nearing the age of 70, he’s stopped asking why it took him so long to be discovered and has settled in to his new role as mentor.  If the new album sounds less melancholic than prior works, it may be because he’s no longer alone.  Hatis Noit is with him this time around, along with Anne Müller and David Allred, a multigenerational family of support.  Some days, the new truth must still be surprising: he is cherished, he is appreciated, he is loved.

Cascade is the word most commonly used to describe Melnyk’s notes, which fall like rain, leaves or snow, depending on the season, a seemingly endless stream.  If anyone had the patience and ears to count these notes, it would be interesting to chart how many are present in a single track, as opposed to those in the tracks of his labelmates.  More notes doesn’t automatically mean better, but in his case the notes seem to be transformed into waves.  So what might happen when these waterfalls meet the extended intonations of Hatis Noit in “Requiem for a Fallen Tree”?  The answer is delicious contrast.  Here is the older man, staring out the window of the train, remarking at the beauty of the fallen trees, which he calls “sorrowful, but hopeful … killed, but (not) dead.”  The final two movements of the title track are “They Are Down” and “Not Forgotten.”  He may see in these trees a reflection of his own life.  His hands begin to twitch as he gazes through the glass.  He taps his tendons, dreaming of the keys.  And now Hatis Noit slows everything down, elongates syllables, sings a sad, slow, elegy.  Dead Can Dance comes to mind.  This inspired collaboration plays with time, which was already the subject, a pianist playing as many notes as he can, as quickly as he can, knowing one day he will run out.

“Barcarolle” is one of the most beautifully defined pieces that Melnyk has ever produced, but to our chagrin we had to look up the definition of the word.  Turns out it’s a style of Venetian gondolier song in 6/8 or 12/8, later popularized in opera.  There’s no opera here, save for the aural reflection of gentle paddles.  This remarkable piece leads to the ambitious 21-minute title suite, its length emphasizing the strength of Melnyk’s hands, its intricacy the strength of his mind.  The piece ~ in fact the entire album ~ is a tribute to golden, neglected beauty.  At this time of year, most people are more interested in fallen leaves, not fallen trees, but Melnyk has an eye for the forgotten.  He recalls the joy of a child finding a felled tree, a fresh treat filled with splinters, bee hives, bird nests and concentric rings.  And when the full cast enters ~ Noit, Allred, Müller ~ it’s as if he’s run home at full speed, eager to alert his friends, his generous heart wanting to share his treasure with others.

As the sun sets earlier and the days are suffused with filtered light, let the sound of Fallen Trees be a reminder that all things die, but that even the dead can glow.  (Richard Allen)

Tue Nov 20 01:01:15 CET 2018

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Drowned In Sound

Ukrainian continuous piano pioneer Lubomyr Melnyk may be turning 70 just before Christmas but that does not mean that his career is entering a largely irrelevant, nostalgia-fuelled twilight phase. In fact, somewhat bizarrely, Melnyk’s career is only now reaching its apex. Having languished in relative obscurity for decades, Melnyk was brought to wider public attention in 2013 by Erased Tapes, the now ubiquitous modern classical label that is also home to the likes of A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Ólafur Arnalds, and Nils Frahm. Melnyk’s fast, but nonetheless highly controlled, style of playing won him immediate admirers when Corollaries was released a little over five years ago. A recent co-headline slot at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the Erased Tapes tenth anniversary celebrations solidified Melnyk’s ascent.

Listening to Fallen Trees, one is struck by how absurd it seems that Melnyk spent so long out in the cold. Each of his releases over the last five years has confirmed what his, often hard to find, earlier records all indicated: that here is a pianist boasting exceptional compositional talent as well as enviable technical skill. On this, Melnyk’s fourth album for Erased Tapes, the mood remains loosely melancholic, as has generally been the case across his discography. There is also, however, a sense of peace here. The beauty of Melnyk’s playing is such that there are constantly multiple emotional pathways discernible to the listener. The sublime ‘Barcarolle’, for example, is largely dominated by what feels like waves of regret, but by its conclusion the piece has reconfigured itself as something like a celebration.

The inspiration for this album’s title, and for at least six of its tracks (including the final five, all part of a linked suite), came from Melnyk’s journeys across Europe in recent years. Glancing out of a train window when travelling through a gloomy forest, Melnyk’s vision was arrested by the sight of felled trees. ‘Even though they’d been killed, they weren’t dead. There was something sorrowful there, but also hopeful’, he comments, in the process aptly summing up the atmosphere conjured up by much of his recorded output. The final five part title suite that closes Fallen Trees does a remarkable job of capturing the haunting tapestry of faded greens and yellowing browns on the record’s front cover. This is, perhaps, the sound of nature coming to terms with its own mortality.

Here, as on several of his recent releases, Melnyk’s compositions are embellished by the contributions of several collaborators. On Fallen Trees it is the vocal contributions – by Japanese artist Hatis Noit and American David Allred – that stand out most of all. At several moments, not least on the opening ‘Requiem for a Fallen Tree’ and in ‘Apparition’ (the central part of the closing suite), the sound of spectral voices emanating from the sonic mist provides the album with an extra layer of strangely blissful solemnity.

Fallen Trees is no reinvention of the wheel. Melnyk has, in recent times, settled into a groove that hardly requires him to dive headlong into experimentation. One can hardly deny that he deserves to be in such a position. This, like the other excellent records he has given us since his belated emergence into the global limelight, is a work of quiet - but nonetheless defiant – beauty from a true great of contemporary classical music, who we must all continue to cherish for as long as we can. Essential.

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Thu Dec 13 19:23:04 CET 2018