The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Paul Giger (violin) Marie-Louise Dähler (harpsichord)
Composer: JS Bach
If you’ve encountered any of Paul Giger’s ECM albums before now, and especially Ignis, you’ll know what I mean when I write of his unclassifiably sacred compositions. They’re not attached to any religion, and they’re certainly not new-age. Perhaps only that much overused word ‘spiritual’ will do. The harpsichord is employed not for its archaic connotations (in the manner of, say, Schnittke) but for its rich timbral possibilities when very closely miked; the opening title track summons a near-Eastern world, spike-fiddle and all, which then slowly dissipates into more familiar surroundings, so that the Aria from the Goldberg Variations, on the harpsichord’s lute stop, comes as the most natural continuation.
This is the pattern, with meditative improvisations (credited equally to Giger and Marie-Louise Dähler) alternating with Bach. You could tease out a complete and stylish performance of the F minor Sonata BWV1018, but that would miss the point of its contextualisation with music that sounds both centuries older and newer. The drones and ostinatos of Cemb a Quattro cede to gently drifting clouds of tremolo in Halfwhole, with the pleasing and rare sense of carefully directed improvisation – which would not be possible were not Giger and Dähler such masters of their instruments as well as their music. You would never guess there are only two instruments, or even what they are, in the climactic clangour of the 16-minute Bombay II with its Chaconne-like, forward yet circular motion. This is ECM doing what it does best, and I think it’s Giger’s most striking album to date.