THIN AIR

Queen Mab Trio
Wig 14

Performance: ****

Sound: ****

Expanding their Canadian New music duo overseas, Montreal-based clarinetist Lori Freedman and Toronto pianist Marilyn Learner added violist Ig Henneman five years ago to make Queen Mab a trio; and this CD is a potent affirmation of that decision.

Consisting of four Henneman compositions, two each by the others and one group improvisation, Thin Air’s music is loosely based on the Queen Mab scherzo from Hector Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet, the trio says.

No obvious linkage exists, but, for instance, Freedman’s “Hersenspinsels” contrasts a melancholy nocturne of struck piano chords with a scherzo-style theme from buzzy bass clarinet and see-sawing viola. Unrolling polyphonically the striated reed vibrato and tremolo strings eventually take on rondo qualities, while Lerner strokes her instrument’s internal strings. Similarly, Henneman’s “Drums and Trumpets” relates to the French composer’s programmatic ideas without using either named instrument. Emphasizing the clarinet’s metallic body tube reverberation as well as the reed, Freedman’s altissimo overblowing attains the braying qualities of a brassy horn. Meanwhile the pianist’s key strikes and string stops provides the percussion. Eventually the fortissimo piece vibrates towards an unexpected crescendo of tonality.

Adapting genres and form to their own ends, the three switch roles as traditionalists and experimenters throughout, with most tracks containing dissonant and staccatissimo as well as legato and adagio passages. Sweet trills plus guttural honks and tongue slaps co-exist from the reedist, just as flying staccato, col legno stops and graceful cadenzas do for the violist; while metronome-like piano pounding is as common as flowing accompaniment from the pianist.

Overall, Thin Air is an impressive essay in modern music. Furthermore, the genre in which the trio can best be slotted is secondary to its noteworthy compositions and performance.

—KEN WAXMAN

— OPUS Volume 30 No. 3