Something to be sought: Ergodos Musicians “I Call To You”
In 2008, the structure of the world’s financial institutions were in free fall. With banks scrambling to pick up the pieces from unsavory dealings – ultimately leading to an erosion of trust for authority as a whole – it left many with uncertainty about their own future. Not many countries in the western world were hurt more than Ireland, which saw cuts in industry, education and most importantly health services. An overall sense of panic struck the nation as students, workers and citizens took to the streets to show contempt with how their government and those financial institutions handled the situation.
In social crisis situations music can be a powerful response as seen in the protests of Estonia, Latvia and many of other eastern European nations during the end of the Soviet occupation. I Call To You, conceived “in the darker moments of Ireland’s financial crisis” is much less of a protest than an overall snapshot of a bleak situation. A peaceful, yet forlorn cry for their nation, the Ergodos Musicians extend their talents and use a powerful mediator in composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
The composers chosen to reinterpret Bach’s organ chorale prelude Ich Ruf Zu Dir Herr Jesu Christ (I Call to You, Lord Jesus Christ) are not just making a statement with their own treatments of this work, but have also carefully crafted a diagnosis. J.S. Bach’s Lutheran chorale form is shattered and recomposed; used to paint an atmospheric picture of despair and brokenness which the artists involved wish to transform into “hope”.
The album opens with a simple yet powerful statement: the original chorale prelude performed on a solo piano. Transcribed by composer Garrett Sholdice and performed by pianist Michael McHale the prelude is performed in a lone room which gives a sense of abandonment. This rendition gives a wonderful preface to the arrangements given on the album.[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/85895892″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
Ich bitt, erhör mein Klagen (Listen to my Lament), properly complements the chorale prelude before it. Composer Benedict Schlepper-Connolly transcends Bach’s work with reimagined ideas of atmosphere and orchestration. The opening, like many of the tracks on this album, slowly builds before developing its minimal structure. Use of the recording space is key, with tremendous reverb that favors many of the extended techniques used in the strings (Clíodhna Ryan, violin and William Butt, cello). Soprano Michelle O’Rourke sings a beautifully slow but energized line of the chorale theme, much like Bach placed his passions and cantatas. This theme is juxtaposed against the sudden forward motion of the ensemble as it progresses from its static form.
O’Rourke’s voice becomes particularly haunting as it reappears, especially in Sholdice’s own interpretation Verleih mir Gnad zu dieser Frist (Give me Grace in this Life). The voice here is accompanied by soaring clarinet lines (Jonathan Sage), strings and occasionally plucked or prepared strings on the piano. Many of the same techniques such as harmonics on the strings and arpeggiations in the piano’s high range are used repeatedly in most of these arrangements to create a very sterile and bleak finish on the overall sound of the album. Simon O’Conner and Jonathan Nangle offer similar interpretations but it can be hard to tell, at times, that the works came from different composers (maybe that’s the point).
While the arrangements offer cleverly entwined ways of repurposing Bach’s counterpoint and theme, many of the works here seem to portray a still picture of a period in time. The album is powerful with its intent, especially if you know its background. But the idea of hope in this music, much like economic landscape still appears today, is embedded deep. Something to be sought, rather than an obvious answer.