Nathan Sherman & Alex Petcu: Totemic – a well-executed debut

The viola and percussion duo mix three specially written works with one 1980s classic

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Artist: Nathan Sherman, Alex Petcu
Genre: Classical
Label: Ergodos ER37

This well-planned and executed debut album by the viola and percussion duo of Nathan Sherman and Alex Petcu mixes three works written for them with a classic from the 1980s. Luciano Berio's Naturale (su melodie siciliane) of 1985, originally a work for dance, is for viola, percussion and tape, on which Berio uses a recording he made himself of a folk singer in Palermo. The result, with pinched microtonal intervals on the viola and hoarse, earthy singing, has been usefully likened to a juxtaposition of raw nature and cooked art.

Ian Wilson says his Totemic is at once a response to Naturale and "an exploration of quiet sonic gestures". The brushing, rubbing sounds of the opening yield almost flute-like sounds, and set the tone for a slowly unfolding work that functions mostly in a world of half-lights. It's a meditative work with a tilt towards bleakness.

Between these substantial pieces are two shorter ones. The flow of Australian composer Kate Moore’s Crucible for viola and marimba – the title inspired by Arthur Miller’s play – is spoiled by the banality of her material.

Much more persuasive is Benedict Schlepper-Connolly’s One Thing I Know, with mostly slow, low, dusky, husky viola surrounded by busy, gamelan-like percussion.

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan is a music critic and Irish Times contributor