Daniel Hope by Harald Hoffmann

Daniel Hope | Spheres
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Violinist Hope’s scheme was to gather works by composers from the 17th-century to present-day that extrapolate on ideas which Pythagorus, Johannes Kepler and other scientists and philosophers put forth, that music has a largely mathematical foundation and, what’s more, can reveal with close listening an “astronomical harmony.” Hope’s selection of composers over this 400-year range demonstrates, most interestingly, the wide span of perception about the cosmos under which musicians and artists have long labored: Is it a harshly unknowable place or thing, indifferent to the slings & arrows down here on Earth? Is it perhaps a comforting being of sorts under whose benevolent gaze we can reconcile the ecstacy, anguish and peace of our daily lives?

From Bach to Faure and from Michael Nyman to the Soft Machine’s Karl Jenkins, the album’s selection of composers is refreshingly aware and progressive-minded, and in very good taste. Hope presents these composers with something else in mind, too, which is to push an apparently crucial “in defense of melody” campaign that states the case that relevant modern music can (in fact must, he says) offer new ideas in very tuneful, “ear-friendly” ways. Thus 100 percent of his repertoire here is at least superficially pretty and not overtly dissonant or grating, as such. Gabriel Prokofiev’s “Spheres” has several moments that lurch from airy, overlapping circular figures into a pointily prickly tension suggesting a statistically perfect, slightly peevish universe; Ludovico Einaudi’s harmonically bland “I Giorni” veers toward the saccharine, a disappointingly harmless piece given his gifts for darker subtleties.

Technically speaking, most of these pieces have in common the use of repetitive motifs and melodies, like circles or orbs of sound that hover about and bump into each other. Philip Glass’ “Echorus” offers a richly matter-of-fact remorselessness amid its stately beauty. Hope pushes the violin’s Thereminlike capabilities in Lera Auerbach’s brief, seesawing “Adagio Sognando”; Arvo Part’s ever-mysterious “Fratres” represents something like sheer perfection in musical symmetry. Aleksey Igudesman’s “Lento” is a beguiling little piece for violin, string orchestra and choir whose inclusion under the umbrella of the “spheres” concept seems a bit contrived but whose presence is entirely welcome.
–– John Payne

photo: Harald Hoffmann

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