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Matthias Loibner
Vielle à roué
Cinq planets

In Vielle à roué Matthias Loibner's versatile musicianship is highlighted in thirteen recordings of solo hurdy-gurdy. Ranging from traditional klezmer music to his own compositions, along with arrangements and improvisations, Loibner's music is at times melancholic, sometimes ecstatic, often stark (for instance the opening track, “Zhe Krevari de Fã” an arrangement of a Savoyard song), and sometimes wistful, as it is on “Förer Frühling”, his impressions of the North Sea island of Föhr. Loibner takes full advantage of the idioms available to the instrument, including lively counter-rhythms played on the “dog” strings, long melodic notes, and haunting drones. At times, as in his own “Katzensilber”, he evokes a Philip Glass-like sound of delicate arpeggiated runs, mesmerizing in the same way that a good performance of Bach's Prelude in C Major can be. His take on medieval music, as heard on “Salzarello”, an arrangement of a 14th century Italian dance, uses repeated motifs over the constant drones to balance the needs of straightforward dance music with the demands of modern art music listeners.

Using the instrument's tendency towards extended legato passages, Loibner crafts plaintive melodies on tracks such as “Crystal Waters”, an improvisation “originally played in communication with cicadas from the Sunshine Coast Hinterland in Australia.” In spite of such claims (not to mention the title), Loibner manages to avoid the New Age noodling that one might dread with descriptions like this or “the sound of the taste of vanilla essence”.

Due to its variety of sources and Loibner's rich musical imagination, Vielle à roué is never monotonous, even to listeners who are not already hurdy-gurdy fanatics (since I am one of the aforementioned fanatics, my empirical test, albeit with a small sample group – OK, two people, is to play the disc to my wife and daughter. Where I am lucky to get them to listen to half of a recording of folkloric French hurdy-gurdy music, they will even let this record continue into dinner without complaint).

The recording quality is quite good, allowing the grittiness as well as the subtlety of the hurdy-gurdy to shine. Even the clicks of the keys are audible, which would be distracting but for the fact that they emphasize Loibner's crisp articulation of his complex melodic material.

The liner notes provide basic biographical information about Loibner and a brief description of the development of the instrument. A little more on the structure of the individual pieces would have been helpful, but, as is often the case, the tunes speak eloquently for themselves, making this a minor flaw in this outstanding album. - Erik Keilholtz

CD available from cdRoots

Other recordings in this review series:
Les maîtres de la vielle baroque - French Music for Hurdy-Gurdy
Les Eclairs de Musique: Les Saisons Amusantes
Tunji Beier and Matthias Loibner: Zykado
Nataŝa Mirković – De Ro and Matthias Loibner: Ajvar & Sterz

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CD available from cdRoots

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