Oh, the many faces of Angèle Dubeau’s violin. The Canadian violinist’s newest album, a collaboration with orchestra La Pietà, presents a dazzling range of sound. This 14-track album is an eclectic mix of film music and concert music by postmodern masters.
Dubeau’s choice of pieces for this album is noteworthy. Drawing from a wide range of composers and source material, she pulls off what few can do these days — a coherent album of contemporary classical music. Although the album features many composers, there is a clear arc to it. I was surprised to find how well the pieces functioned when listened to in order.
Of 14 tracks, there were standouts. If, composed by Michael Nyman, shows Dubeau at her simplest. Its sparse violin melody careens over an orchestral landscape that could stand as a slow movement by Vivaldi. Violinists can be best evaluated during moments of musical simplicity, and Dubeau rises to the occasion. Her playing here is often without ornament and her wonderful tone is on full display.
My Edward and I, by Italian composer Dario Marianelli, is another high point of the album. It begins with subdued piano, soon overtaken by Dubeau’s emphatic playing, always clear especially when spanning the higher reaches of the instrument. Even at moments of greatest emotion, she is powerful without going over the top.
In contrast with many albums of contemporary music, none of Dubeau’s choices atonal or jarring. Apple Music lists this album as “classical crossover.” Much of the music has the sound of the repetitive minimalist fare you would find as the soundtrack of a documentary. In fact, Uno Helmersson’s The Grandmaster Suite is from a documentary called Magnus. But played without film, these works walk with more attitude and stand on their own. Doria, by Ólafur Arnalds, is another charmer. Repeating string figures are treated with such lightness that I found myself revisiting the track many times.
Combining film music with work composed by concert composers is a noteworthy strategy. Many albums tend toward one approach or the other, and it’s refreshing to hear the two genres on even footing. Dubeau draws a clear line between the tracks on this album and it becomes easy to hear them as part of the same musical continuum.
If the album has a fault, it’s that the whole verges on monotony. One might guess that Dubeau chose these pieces because they speak to one another. They usually move slowly with simple orchestral accompaniment, filled with recurring notes and repeating harmonies. And while this allows the pieces to blend into one another, at an hour and eight minutes, the album can feel laborious when taken as a whole. The performances by La Pietà provide a wonderful setting for Dubeau’s playing. The orchestra is unobtrusive, cradling the sound of the soloist without forcing itself to be heard over her. But the group is ever present in the background, keeping excellent time and weaving textures as interesting as the solo melodies over them.
Dubeau closes with Steve Reich’s Duet. The sound has the quality of music looking at itself in a mirror. Violin lines overlap and seem to beg each other to keep up in a Reichian game of tag. Duet is one of the more unusual tracks on the album, and its placement bookends the album along with a spirited first track by film composer Valentin Hadjadj.
For an album released during a pandemic, Immersion is an uplifting work. This is no small feat considering the predominantly slow tempos. But Dubeau’s choice of pieces with clear, bright melodies over simple accompaniment makes for an album filled with hope.