Freya Waley-Cohen’s Permutations

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

Listening to Freya Waley-Cohen’s Permutations without reading the accompanying booklet notes, one would assume that it is a work for multiple violins partitioned into continuous, gently contrasting sections. Certain parts feature sparse sustained chords (sometimes shaped by a collective crescendo), while others contain wispily jagged phrases supported by high-lying long tones and punctuated by pizzicato outbursts. The recording places the instruments in a closely-miked stereo perspective that effectively exploits the textural and timbral differences. The 18-minute piece always holds your attention, yet seems most engaging and forward-moving at the halfway point, where steadier motoric rhythms emerge that pass back and forth from one instrument to the next.

Upon reading the booklet notes, however, you discover that the music is set out in six prerecorded violin parts, each occupying its own chamber. The chambers are distributed in an architectural venue according to particular spatial specifications. Consequently you’re supposed to perceive the six violin parts from different perspectives. Since a two-channel stereo recording cannot reproduce the intended acoustic effect, does this release misrepresent the composer’s intentions?

She certainly doesn’t address the issue in her technically-oriented booklet notes. However, we should assume that her sister, violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, is doing full justice to the notes, phrases, timbres, and dynamics. No such issues concern Unveil for Solo Violin, which utilizes material from Permutations in a simpler, more improvisatory, and less interesting collage-like manner. While I’d ultimately like to hear Permutations via surround-sound, I’m happy to return to the present two-channel manifestation, which is worth the modest price of this 27:46-length EP.



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Recording Details:

  • Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin)

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