Acoustic Sounds

Rachel's

Music For Egon Schiele

Music

Sound

Produced By: Jason B. Noble and Rachel Grimes

Engineered By: Bob Weston

Mastered By: John Loder at Abbey Road

By: Michael Fremer

September 16th, 2022

Format:

Vinyl

Originally Seen In:

Magazine

Rachel's' 'Music For Egon Schiele' Floats Above Cliche

From the archives: You’ll feel this the first play and you’ll play it repeatedly

(This review originally appeared in Issue 7, Spring 1996.)

Rachel’s’ 1995 release Handwriting LP (Quarterstick 30 LP) is on my top 10 of ‘95 list and this enchanting record may end up on the ‘96 list. The music here was composed by pianist Rachel Grimes for a dance and theater piece based on the life of turn of the century Viennese painter Egon Schiele.

The stage work was written and directed by Stephan Mazurek for Chicago’s Itinerant Theater Guild, which he heads. The project debuted in May of 1995, and throughout its run, Grimes and Christian Frederickson on viola and Wendy Doyle on cello performed it live, as they do on this record.

Schiele’s story is marked by sadness and tragedy which is clearly expressed in Grimes’ delicate, modern chamber music, but beyond that, what’s communicated is dignity and a resolute spirit. At no time does the music descend into bathos or melodrama.

The emotional narrative in these mostly under five-minute pieces is carried by the viola, with Grimes’ piano providing the connective tissue and Doyle’s cello the subtext. Grimes, who holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Louisville, composes what might be called [post]modern classical music, complex in structure and freely melodic (don’t expect “tunes” though), but imbued with the economy, freedom  and angularity of alternative rock, which she also writes and performs.

The music floats above cliche and even the easily recognizable. It is modern, yet retains the feel of the time about which it is written. At times Grimes provides dramatic forward propulsion with rounds of minimalist arpeggios over which the viola spins webs of melodic silk. The music soars from the grooves: it is young, bold and vibrant, filled with optimism and a rare, difficult to describe beauty which rises up from the body and clears the head.

You’ll feel it the first play and you’ll play it repeatedly. According to the liner notes, Rachel Grimes works as a designer and office manager for an outdoor store, and she teaches piano to among others, a member of the band Crain. Listening to this, I find it hard to believe Grimes will not be able to quit her day job in the very near future. Someone will find a film for her to score or offer her a commission.

Grimes’ arrangements, particularly the interplay between the cello and viola, are exquisitely drawn, with complex counterpoint and a sophisticated harmonic structure which makes the ensemble sound much bigger than three pieces.

You’ll note the engineer on this project is Bob Weston, Steve Albini’s associate and member of the rock band Shellac. On Rachel’s’ previous LP, which was a band project, though the sonic spirit was willing, the equipment simply wasn't up to the task, though that record sounded pretty good under the circumstances.

Here the circumstances are much better: Weston recorded the trio in two days in the University of Louisville’s North Recital Hall, using much better equipment. He’s done an outstanding job of balancing the direct sound of the instruments with the reverberation of the hall. The result is superb image focus, and a rich, warm, woody instrumental presentation, including the piano.

Weston’s recorded perspective (as opposed to where he actually placed the mics) is slightly closer than mid-hall. Front to back imaging is fine, with Grimes’ piano clearly placed center stage behind the viola, and cello which appear fairly close together on the soundstage. Transparency is also superior.

While the mastering at Abbey Road sounds clean and free of hash and grain, unfortunately pressing quality is low. Unlike the first LP which was pressed in England on 150 or 180 gram virgin vinyl, this release is on the thin side, though it is fairly quiet, and my copy was pressed seriously off-center—not a good thing for chamber or any other music with sustained notes.

Packaging, as with the last release, is superb, with high quality paper and printing. Highly recommended on either format, but despite the pressing problem I encountered, I’d opt for the vinyl. Do yourself a favor and seek this out.

Music Specifications

Label: Quarterstick Records

Catalog No: QS 35

Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Presentation: Single LP

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