We first encountered Tambour (Montreal’s Simon P. Castonguay) on a split release with Julien Marchal, but three minutes of solo piano was not enough to form a lasting impression. Now the composer has returned with a string quartet, and the results are exquisite. These four tracks unfold as a suite, lifting listeners out of the concert hall and into the stratosphere; the cover photo makes a lovely metaphor.
The title piece begins as Tambour’s contribution to the split ended, miked piano casting a quiet shadow. The simple melody is soon offset by swirling strings, which eventually dominate the sound field. The transition to “Waves” is seamless, as the introductory lines stretch across the borders. As one might expect from the title, the piece is lulling and deep: neither crashing nor lapping, but rolling. Already one has learned a bit about Tambour’s style: solo segments alternating with fuller orchestration, creating stripes of contrast. A tonal shift arrives at 3:52 as the darker cellos intrude like the red clouds above.
“Esquisses oubliées en trois mouvements” begins like a shy child peeking her head around a corner. As she is enticed by the sights and sounds of the grown-up room, she ventures forth. In the second movement, she is enveloped in warmth and light; in the third, she’s dancing, oblivious to the adults around her.
“The nude and the quiet” is a slower, more thoughtful piece, the creaks of the piano more apparent than ever before. Castonguay seems to be improvising, landing each note in tentative fashion. The strings add the glue, providing confidence to each ivory note. Glockenspiel tones enter in the final minutes, suffusing the entire project with a tender glow. The storm has passed, leaving a multi-hued sunset in its wake. With seconds to go, the tempo quickens. The players skip merrily into the night. (Richard Allen)