Cobalt Duo: Up, Down, Top, Bottom, Strange, Charm

Saturday 13 June 2020

Lost my internet over a week ago so I’ve been listening to more music but posting about it less. First thing of many I need to catch up on is this CD by pianists Kate Halsall and Fumiko Miyachi. They’ve been working together as Cobalt Duo since 2014 and I’ve managed to miss everything they’ve done until now. Up, Down, Top, Bottom, Strange, Charm is a great selection of pieces by contemporary composers, including Miyachi herself. It’s a neatly contrasting but complementary collection; making the album greater than the sum of its parts, even as each piece has nice little details that reward repeated individual listening.

The real oldie here is Egidija MedekÅ¡aitÄ—’s Textile 1, a duet dating all the way back to 2006. A thoroughly beguiling interweaving of rippling piano lines that leads the ear through melodic and harmonic twists and turns without ever breaking its constant, pulsating flow, this piece opens the set and sets the tone for the album. Aspects of it recur in various guises in the subsequent pieces, including a similar, more inflected interplay at the end of Miyachi’s concluding suite. James Black’s Crow is a diptych in which a Cowell-like juxtaposition of dense block chords and strummed strings is followed by sequences of lightly tripping descending arpeggios. The deftness of touch in Cobalt Duo’s playing helps to bring off this heterogenous mix successfully. Their mixture of sureness and lightness shows these steady pulses and runs of notes to their best effect, with a tightly matched unanimity in their playing. These are real strengths in compositions such as these, which shy away from more flamboyant, romantic tendencies.

The music is still eclectic, though. Halsall and Miyachi play a small selection from the sity-two (and counting?) miniatures in Sarah Lianne Lewis’s I have observed the most distant planet to have a triple form, which range from the explosive, to the remote, to the utmost pointillism. Anton Lukoszevieze’s Sutra demands that unanimity of execution in exacting unison playing and singing. The final two pieces are for piano four hands: Michael Wolters’s Gisela Doesn’t Care takes the rippling arpeggios and tremoloes to an extreme, extending a classical cadence beyond all reason. As with the Lukoszevieze, Cobalt Duo play with a directness that can be heard as either high seriousness or sly irony. Miyachi’s own Up, Down, Top, Bottom, Strange, Charm is a suite of pieces dedicated to each quark. By far the longest piece here, the two central movements dominate despite containing so little stuff. “Top” slows down time with struck notes elongated by e-bowed strings, while “Bottom” brings it to a near-standstill, letting the gaps between sound becomes the foreground.