Bekah Simms ~ Bestiaries

Bestiaries is enthralling and unique.  The music is a reflection of its cover art: a melange of intricacies, colorful, yet frightening, grotesque, yet intriguing.  Centrediscs calls it “accessible yet uncompromising.”  This is a fitting album for October, or for any time during the dark season when the light flees and the shadows begin to creep across the floor.  And yet, it’s not cheap; although the music has the feel of a horror movie, it also has the timbre of a grand symphony.  The presence of two ensembles, a solo cellist and an accomplished soprano pushes the album into the realm of the upscale.

Bekah Simms has racked up a good number of awards in a short period of time; she’s still young enough to win “Young Composer” awards, but her compositions sound like the work of someone who has been writing for decades.  “Foreverdark” demonstrates a plunge into the fascinations of the macabre; just as her hair has changed from brown to green to black, her tonal palette has grown increasingly inky.  Penderecki comes to mind during the staccato and glissando segments; the pounding mid-piece drums increase the drama even more, and the creaking, yearning finale warns, something wicked this way comes.

“from Void” continues the suspense, launching in stops and starts, like a beast retreating into the shadows whenever one turns to look, each time reappearing a little bit closer.  A different form of creaking, like a difficult wheel, is joined by brass and bells, the backdrop increasingly agitated.  In the fourth minute, a pounce, a yelp, a growl.  The stage is set for the two-part title track, in which soprano and live electronics join the fray.  The brief melodic beginning is a red herring.  Charlotte Mundy yelps and gulps across a sonic chasm, weaving her way through the percussion, extending sounds and syllables.  As the birds enter, the combination of title, sound and cover art conjures uncharted taxonomies.  When the brass reappears, it sounds even larger than before.

When one is listening to the avant garde, the accessible becomes surprising.  At 5:36, major chords surface; just as quickly, they recede.  This segment, as well as the opening, are compositional winks that imply an alternate, mainstream career: a path that Simms has to this point eschewed, instead building bestiaries of sound and filling them with creations of her own.  (Richard Allen)

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