Classical CD Reviews

Theremin – GRAINGER: Free Music #1, MARTINU: Fantasia, SCHILLINGER: Melody, Mouvement, WILCKENS: Dance in the Moon, ACHRON: Improvisation, KAVINA: Suite, In Whims of the Wind, ANTUNES: Mixolydia, Komarov: Voice of the Theremin – Lydia Kavina – Mode

Varied program from the world's leading thereminist

Published on November 14, 2005

Theremin – GRAINGER: Free Music #1, MARTINU: Fantasia, SCHILLINGER: Melody, Mouvement, WILCKENS: Dance in the Moon, ACHRON: Improvisation, KAVINA: Suite, In Whims of the Wind, ANTUNES: Mixolydia, Komarov: Voice of the Theremin – Lydia Kavina – Mode
Theremin – GRAINGER: Free Music #1, MARTINU: Fantasia,
SCHILLINGER: Melody, Mouvement electrique et pathetique, WILCKENS:
Dance in the Moon, ACHRON: Improvisation, KAVINA: Suite, In Whims of
the Wind, ANTUNES: Mixolydia, Komarov: Voice of the Theremin – Lydia
Kavina, theremin, with Joshua Pierce, piano; Elizabeth Parcells,
soprano; Portland String Quartet – Mode 76, 67:22 ****:

I wouldn’t be surprised if the reissue of this 1999 disc was prompted
by the interest generated in the woo-woo electronic instrument by the
release of the documentary of Robert Moog, which we reviewed recently.
The performer is seen in the film. Not just a simple reissue, the
original CD has been remastered in 24-bit hi-res and the sonics are
cleaner and more wide range than the earlier release.  Kavina is
the foremost theremin soloist in the world today, and is the
granddaughter of the the first cousin of Leon Theremin – the inventor
back in the 1920s of the precursor to synthesizers and most electronic
instruments. She began studying the instrument under his tutelage at
age 9 – there is a photo of the two of the two of them in the note
booklet. She also collaborated with Moog in a DVD on how to play the
theremin, which is not an easy instrument to play well by any means.
The Mode label is also working on a DVD of Kavina playing works for
theremin and chamber ensemble plus several interviews.

There’s plenty of sites on the theremin on the Net, so I’ll concentrate
on the specific works on this CD in lieu of an exhaustive treatise on
this most unusual musical instrument. Percy Grainger has many sides to
his personality, and it turns out the composer of Country Gardens also
liked to experiment with music and even free it from the tempered
system of Western music. He found the theremin “the most perfect of
tonal instruments I know,” and created his first Free Music work for
four of them, all four being played by Kavina here via overdubbing.
Martinu composed his Fantasia for theremin, oboe, piano and
strings  in 1944 in New York City, where he was exiled during WW
II. The many varieties of sound possible with the theremin appealed to
this composer of colorful works.

Joseph Schillinger, who lived until 1943, sounds like a more modern
Scriabin.  The Ukrainian musical visionary founded the first jazz
orchestra in the Soviet Union and in America was a guru to musicians
ranging from Gershwin to Earle Brown.  He was attracted to
electronic instruments and had theories about the coordination of all
the arts into one means of expression. He wrote his “Electric Movement”
using mathematical and geometrical structures, and exploited the
ability of the instrument to “provide a tone of infinite durations
without renewal of attack.”  Kavina’s own two works exhibit many
unusual effects possible on the theremin in the first and similarities
to the human voice in the second, which has a soprano vocal part.

Ms. Kavin looks good in her strapless.  After all, if you play a
musical instrument without every actually touching it, you wouldn’t
want clothing interfering in any way with your arm and finger
movements. From adolescence on I have always wanted a theremin of my
own.  I think its use in the soundtracks of “Spellbound’ and “The
Red House” were my stimuli for this.  I recall Bob Moog’s kit
version was originally only $50. You can still purchase a theremin
online.  Anyway, this probably explains why I love and recommend
this CD.  Your mileage may vary.

- John Sunier




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