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Nils Frahm: "Wintermusik"

img  Tobias

German composer and multi-instrumentalist Nils Frahm recorded Wintermusik in late December 2009, and the album has the quiet pensive feel of snowflakes on a gray winter day. A deft and quiet piano touch marries the firelight warmth of George Winston with the icy minimalism of Steve Reich and slow-motion post rock sounds of Sigur Ros or Tortoise. Sparse chimes of celesta and fragmented reed organ color meditative piano pieces that summon images of chilled carolers lost in a haze of falling snow.

Frahm originally conceived the music as a holiday gift to friends and family and while no direct allusions are made, certain musical figures evoke memories of Christmas carols. Rather than sounding contrived or commercial, however, the effect is music that paints pictures of childhood and nostalgia. This is particularly effective in “Ambre,” Wintermusik’s opening piece, a delicate and uplifting piano solo colored with touches of celesta.

Similarly, “Nue,” the album’s final composition, moves between Baroque keyboard figures and twinkling passages seemingly meant for toy instruments. At certain moments, the music veers dangerously close to New Age sounds, but the sincerity of the performance throughout and dark flutters of reed organ near the song’s close make for an intriguing and emotional listen.

“Tristana,” Wintermusik’s 17 minute centerpiece, glacially unfolds from minimalist piano figures that weave in and out of twinkling minor chords to a subtle but climatic finale section anchored by a recurring low end keyboard pedal note and a powerfully placed three chord figure that quietly hits like a ton of bricks. The piece sounds simultaneously improvised and through-composed, delivering the listener through seemingly floating textures with subtle changes in rhythmic pulse without stagnating.

Like the best minimalist work, Wintermusik maintains never-ending rhythmic continuity with very few complete moments of silence while paradoxically creating a real sense of vacancy and space. The seldom low-end reed organ notes become powerful punctuation marks under the spiraling 8th note piano figures that nearly disappear in their consistency. Subtle mid-range organ melodies and rare tonality changes become powerful and even ecstatic events that occur just often enough to pull the listener out of the music’s hypnotic spell. The result is a mesmerizing and deeply personal instrumental work that leaves you in a tranquil and nostalgic haze long after the music has come to an end.

By Hannis Brown

Homepage: Nils Frahm
Homepage: Erased Tapes Records

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