Patina is another triumph for cellist-composer Peter Gregson, and is our pick of the season in Modern Composition. Never content to rest on his laurels, Gregson challenged himself while constructing this new set. After preliminary recording sessions, he eliminated the melodies and rebuilt the tracks on counter-melodies, then repeated the process. One might guess the results would border on abstraction, but the pieces instead find new forms, doubling back on each other and exposing new sides. After all the tinkering, the album remains thoroughly melodic.
The album also yields a wide range of timbres, most apparent in the contrast between two video singles. “Over” and “Sequence (seven)” may include similar images, but one reflects stillness through strings and slow, steady sequences, while the other conveys turbulence through electronics and swift edits. Gregson calls “Over” the album’s “most romantic and yearning” cut; Stephen Proctor’s direction holds suit. The track builds from silence and invites contemplation. Soft ripples are matched by tentative strings. Camera and composer draw back simultaneously. Then yes, melody, almost a chorus. The branching streams echo the branching lines. And finally, the vast, blue sea.
Contrast this with “Sequence (seven), in which Gregson steps back ~ no solo cello here ~ and allows arpeggios to rule the roost. Those branching rivers appear again, and we can hear the sea ~ but we also feel a desire to frolic. The vantage point zooms, spins, recalibrates; now it tilts and accelerates. As the electronics bubble and pirouette, the strings provide firm grounding, finally rising to a well-constructed level of drama that surpasses that of the electronics.
The album’s title track finds the composer front and center, flanked by lights and collaborators. The rippling turquoise curtain is a reminder of the album art. As the players increase, the piece begins to surge. The theatre remains frustratingly empty, but the players pay this no mind; the projectionist adds blooming flowers, fire and rain, hands intertwined, again like rivers.
The entire album is this beautiful; any one of the nine tracks could have been chosen as singles. “Sense” rises out of lovely piano notes, singing with subtlety over its first half and bursting with color in its second, before returning to the piano in the close. “Don’t Wake” is a showcase for the cello and a haunting, repeated theme. And closer “Continuum” ties the whole project together with percussive joy, as if the rivers have finally found their sea, the harmonies their melody, the theatre its audience. At 2:57, Gregson’s cello leaps to the foreground, making a declarative statement in the waning moments. Should one melody fall, another will rise to take its place. (Richard Allen)