This Canadian Music Centre release in Naxos’ Canadian Classics series offers sixty minutes of Ana Sokolovic’s ever-fascinating chamber music. Ensemble Transmission is heard in a variety of configurations, including solo works, and the startling rendition of Vez for solo cello, here played with tremendous expressive range by Julie Trudeau, is a particular highlight. Sokolovic’s richly varied musical language, fresh timbres, and wonderful sense of ensemble dialogue make each piece a new sonic adventure. This is certainly fiercely contemporary chamber music, and the use of extended techniques, vocal interjections, and eccentric backstory (e.g. performance directions inspired by automatic hand dryer!) give a sense of these works’ sonic range and sense of humour (see, for example, Lori Freedman’s jaunty performance of the tongue-in-cheek “Mesh” for E-flat clarinet). But what one remembers longest after listening are the many strange, gleaming, delicate, piano and pianissimo textures, which haunt the ear long after the album is over.
Ensemble Transmission offers a remarkable series of performances with careful attention to the tiniest details of sound, realizing with particular beauty Sokolovic’s crackling rhythmic language and most delicate, intimate ensemble passages (e.g., the velvety opening of Un bouquet de brume). Sokolovic’s soundworld evokes her Balkan roots, but these influences are subtle, surprising, and imagined anew, flavouring both her harmonic language and the dancing rhythmic drive of many of these pieces. The Trois Études—one of several world première recordings on this CD—are exquisite piano miniatures in contrasting textures and witty counterpoint: true feats of compositional economy and small-scale structure. The second Étude is a gem: its softer, caressing moments harken to the loveliest jazz, and pianist Brigitte Poulin seduces with each note.