Loss and gratitude mingle at the core of this gorgeous album, which was inspired by W.B. Yeats’ heartrending poem Ephemera. On the surface, the poem bears the weight of fading love and the sorrow of age. But read again, and one might glean other things: the temporal span of a love well spent, the kernel of true love that exists beneath earthly passion, a surrender to eternity. Mourning is intertwined with the end of mourning. The farewell is sweeter because the emotions are not faded, but nudged toward a different dock.
Maciek Dobrowolski is able to mirror such conflicted readings in Ephemera, an aching album that dips close to despair without drowning in it. The string quartet conveys themes of heroism and sacrifice, of a love that burns bright, seen even more sharply in relief as the fire burns out. A filmic sensibility is communicated through balanced electronics, the steady pulse of “A Thousand Sorrows Came As One” intimating an approaching, inevitable fate. But there’s fight in these sounds as well, a reflection of the female protagonist, who declares, “Although our love is waning, let us stand / By the long border of the lake once more.”
By splitting “Continual Farewell” into two parts, separated by three tracks and appearing earlier in the album than in the poem, Dobrowolski underlines the idea behind the words; each hello contains the seed of goodbye. Shall we then never say hello? The deep attachment of the quartet says otherwise. The risk is huge, the potential cost enormous, all worth it to live fully, to love and even to lose. The chords carry echoes of Mozart’s Lacrimosa, and bear a matching tone that connects earth to heaven and increases the power of every individual act.
The composer tackles grand themes with great tenderness, but he’s not afraid to be bold. The “pull” between nostalgia and hope, sorrow and gratitude is reflected in the track of the same name, its drama increased by crunchy percussion that touches on Ben Frost timbres. This too was a risk, but it pays off as it begins to anticipate the culmination of the electronic theme. When this arrives in “Tempest,” the payoff seems well-earned, the track bursting with intensity as it races toward a doubled motif at 4:20, the completion of themes introduced as early as the second track. And after the tempest there is calm, the album softly lowering to a bed of acceptance. The final sound seems to be that of a needle in a locked groove, in earlier days a sign that a record was over, but now widely heard as continuance.
Before us lies eternity; our souls
Are love, and a continual farewell.