Magical, Transcendent New Carillon Music

by delarue

Tiffany Ng is a virtuoso of one of the rarest instruments: the carillon. It didn’t used to be that way. A hundred years ago, every respectable European town with a bell tower or two had one, sometimes several. Like church organs, every carillon is custom-made for its own space and available bells. Ng chose the magnificent model on her home turf at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to record her magical, otherworldly album Dark Matters: Carillon Music of Stephen Rush, streaming at Spotify.

Rush made waves in the carillon demimonde with his Three Etudes in 1987 and remains a major figure. Ng maintains a steady pace through the clever counterpoint and echo effects of the first segment and the hypnotic, more spacious tolling of the second. The finale, “With Drive,” is nothing short of mesmerizing, a web of alternate sonic universes unfolding as the overtones ring out, Ng shifting from a march of sorts to a solemn, spare, deep-space clang and a catchy, icily dancing theme.

The album’s title track has allusive chromatics and music box-like chimes in contrast to spare, resonant low accents and a relentless, sepulchral mystery. Six Treatments, a site-specific electroacoustic suite, spans from anvil minimalism to sparse, plaintive figures, a playfully ghostly “tilted waltz” and a vast, meditative panorama. The electronics kick in most noticeably in a shivery, wintry river tableau, followed by a rapt, often warmly fugal Charles Ives homage and a whirring, lingering vortex of a conclusion.

Ng begins Rush’s Sonata for Carillon as the closest thing to variations on a bold, on-the-hour riff here, building to a friendly exorcist theme of sorts. Part two, Flux most closely approximates a stately piano theme, but with some devious echo effects. The finale, Variations on Holy Manna, is as catchy and dramatic as it is trancelike.

The composer conducts a brass quintet – Keenan Bakowski on trumpet, Zoe Cutler on trombone, Dominic Hayes on horn, Michael Stern on trumpet, Jacob Taitel on tuba and Tanner Tanyeri on percussion – alongside Ng in the album’s suspensefully shapeshifting, concluding number, September Fanfares. The recording quality is sublime: it’s as if you’re there in the tower with Ng. What a ravishingly beautiful album.