Snowdrops ~ Volutes

Snowdrops combines the talents of Christine Ott on piano and Ondes Martenot, Mathieu Gabry on piano and mellotron, and Anne-Irène Kempf on viola.  Volutes is music for a thoughtful season: subtle rather than overt, reflective rather than reactive.

We’ll begin with the 13-minute elephant in the room.  Despite being the second-to-last track, “Odysseus” is the album’s beating heart.  One can hear  the bittersweet tone of the hero’s journey as it develops, starting in a swirl of strings, then given solid ground by the piano.  A flutter of electronics passes like an augury.  Snowdrops is built for this sort of piece: pensive, yet with direction, seemingly caught between modern composition and improvisation.  When the music slows and nearly stops, one can sense the protagonist’s indecision.  The post-rock tone echoes Ott’s work in Oiseaux-Tempête.  Her expressive Ondes Martenot sounds particularly sad mid-piece.  And then there is the ending, in which no one is happy, no one is fulfilled.  Still, the closing notes imply an open ending, and the closing track ~ a variation of the opening “Comma” ~ draws a bow around the release.

Whenever the main instruments occupy center stage, the album settles into a graceful lull.  Ironically, the album’s only distractions arrive via its least important instrument.  Described in the press release as “a subtle sci-fi undercurrent of popping, bubbling rhythmic punctuation,” this electronic addition is too quiet, approximately the same volume and timbre as an ailing CD.  The sound distracts from the talent of the performers, and appears only in the two lead singles.

Better to wade toward “Etoge De L’Errance” and “Inception,” and have one’s faith in the piano and strings restored.  The Ondes Martenot takes a break for these two tracks, preparing for its big finale.  By subtracting the instrument for a brief period, Snowdrops produces a lovely sense of dynamic contrast, while underlining their strength in the modern chamber arena.  While previously known for their film work (especially last year’s Manta Ray on Gizeh Records, recorded without Kempf), they’ve thrown off the constraints of narrative and seem liberated as a result.  Unlike Odysseus, their tale has just begun.  (Richard Allen)

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