Silence. A piano melody outlines a familiar shape: dominant start, rising and settling on the tonic. A second phrase: a drop down low, followed by a big leap. A halo of strings joins, circling our melody, which has taken on new life. The piano disappears, the strings take over. A ‘cello melody lifts itself up into our awareness and the piano returns. Gradually other instruments join in, lifting together. To this reviewer, it sounds exactly like a sunrise: it has the same warmth, the same sense of opening up, of coming back to life, of growth.
Music has meaning, on that we can probably all agree. But the extent to which musicians embed a specific meaning into a piece varies. The title of the track just described, which is both the album’s opener and the title track, suggests that we’re not a million miles off with our interpretation. But one of the joys of this album is that the music largely leaves itself open to interpretation. It’s at once a gorgeous accompaniment to deep thought, without being didactic about precisely what we should be thinking.
We last raved about Pêtr Aleksänder in 2021 when reviewing their album Collage, having already interviewed them back in 2017 to ask them about an earlier album Roam, released under their real names Tom Hobden and Elliot James. In The World Laid Out Before Me, released on Moderna Records, the artists were by their own admission “honestly a bit lost as to what exactly we hoped to achieve. There is a lot of contradiction in the world right now – we seem to be advancing in some ways but going backwards in others – so it was hard to distill something from that into writing an album.” The result is nine gorgeous pieces for strings, piano and winds, by turns playful and melancholic, but always compelling, always full of heart.
There are so many lovely moments that it’s a shame to pick out one above the others, but “Fantasia Opening” must surely be one of the most beautiful pieces released this year. Words fail and your reviewer finds himself wanting to misuse Radiohead’s sarcastic lyrics: here, everything is really in its right place, quite literally. It’s neither flashy nor showy, there’s nothing extraneous, it’s just perfect. Beautiful music played exquisitely by great musicians. Life-enhancing. Stop reading and go listen already. (Garreth Brooke)