New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: chamber pop

Poignant, Fascinating Korean Sounds in Queens Last Night

It would make sense to assume that a band who’d play a song called The Scream of the Sunflower would be more than a little psychedelic. Much as there were plenty of surreal moments in improbably named Korean chamber-folk group Fairy Tale’s North American debut last night at Flushing Town Hall, the show was more about elegance and poignancy.

“Legend” is probably a better English translation of what the sextet call themselves. Lyrics are very important to this group, especially to expressive frontwoman Myeongseo Jang, so she and her bandmates took turns introducing the songs in coyly fractured English. Their signature sound is piano-based parlor pop laced with terse, expertly played Korean folk riffs and playful trick endings. “Less is more” seems to be their mantra.

Their new album Land of the Poet features new songs with lyrics by Korean poets from across the years, and they played several of those, the most plaintive of them written under the Japanese occupation. The band’s not-so-secret weapon is haegeum (spike fiddle) player Yunjin Ko, whose eerie, slippery low-midrange glissandos and austere, overtone-spiced washes grounded the music in an austere rusticity. That effect was enhanced by the low-register geomungo lute of Juhee Kim, who played mostly low-key rock-style basslines, but tantalized the crowd with a couple of breathtakingly surreal, tone-warping solos. If there’s anybody in the band we need to hear more of, it’s her.

Drummer Kyuyeon Kim was a similarly understated presence: much of the time, purposefully emphatic pianist Youngjin Oh carried the rhythm. Daegeum (wood flute) player Youseok Seo traded brief contrapuntal passages with the haegeum and geomungo when he wasn’t adding precise flickers and flutters behind Jang’s nuanced vocals.

The night’s most arresting song was Dear Boy, a brooding lament with a lyric from the Japanese occupation years, bringing to mind early Genesis with its intricate, tantalizingly brief interplay between geomumgo and piano on the intro and outro. Most of the songs built momentum over an allusive triplet groove fueled by Oh’s steely lefthand. One of the early numbers came across as a mashup of Korean folk and Springsteen stadium rock; a later tune bounced along on a catchy, circling new wave piano riff.

The rest of the set edged toward both darkness and drama but seldom went all the way there, tension and suspense lurking but never showing themselves. A moody strut driven by a downward piano progression had echoes of Tom Waits. It wasn’t until the encore, a blazing sunset tableau, that Jang finally cut loose with a full-throttle wail at the very end.

Fairy Tale’s first tour outside of Korea continues tonight, Dec 2 at 6  PM at the Korean Community Center, 100 Grove St. in Tenafly, NJ. Flushing Town Hall continues to program some of the most exciting global sounds coming through New York outside of the usual Barbes-Drom-Lincoln Center pipeline. One especially intriguing upcoming concert here is on January 26 at 8 PM with another genre-defying Korean band, Black String, who blend edgy guitar improvisation with classic geomungo and flute sounds. Tickets go onsale on December 11, and as with all Flushing Town Hall events, ages 13-19 with school ID get in free.

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Little Coyote Bring Their Relentless Angst to Bushwick

The alienation and sadness are relentless through Toronto band Little Coyote’s debut album The Trouble With Teeth, streaming at Bandcamp. Frontwoman/keyboardist Teagan Johnson blends brooding, neoromantic piano with Mike Poisson’s lushly elegant synthesized orchestration, yet with remarkable restraint: there’s more 21st century minimalism than there is Chopin or Tschaikovsky in her emphatic anthems. Little Coyote are headlining an excellent triplebill this Friday night, Nov 10 at Bushwick Public House at around 10 PM; trippy electro/downtempo chanteuse Pearla opens the night at 8, followed by excellent, catchy rainy day psych-pop band Minor Poet at 9. Cover is 5.

“I’ll figure it out,” Johnson intones uneasily as the album’s first full-length cut, The Bottom, winds up – but at that point her voice breaks. All the bluster that led up to it, bassist Aretha Tillotson’s lines rising like waves amidst a hurricane over the insistent drums, can’t lift Johnson out of the gloom that persists throughout this album.

“All my old friends say they can’t breathe,” she laments as the icepick piano chords of Medicine kick in. “Setting off atom bombs in the desert, said there’s nothing wrong wiith forever,” she broods as the alienated rainy-day ballad Daylighit Twilight begins its relentless sway. “Black water, black water swallow me whole/Oh daugher, oh daugher, when will you control the darkness?” she asks.

Teeth Rot is Cure-influenced without being a total ripoff: it’s the poppiest track here (and could do double duty as a commercial for small-batch toothpaste). Annie’s Dead rises from a plaintive, elegiac intro to a roaring blend of noir cabaret and stadium rock: “I’m just a memory, too easily replaced,” Johnson muses.

Byron Patterson’s icy tremolo-picked guitar mingles with stately piano in Lucy Get Blue, while the pounding, turbulent swirl of Electric mashes up two generations of goth: 17 Seconds-era Cure and Amanda Palmer. With its torrents of water imagery, Handshake Tragedy is the album’s most hypnotic track.

“We’ll make it out alive,” Johnson asserts in the bouncy Delirium, but again, she sounds far from certain. It’s clear that it’s going to take more than a relationship to pull this woman up from the bottom of the well: “My heart breaks easy and my bones do too.” The album winds up with the title track, which hints at ragtime but never goes there. Fans of the Mynabirds and Holly Miranda – and all the girls who’ve outgrown that New Zealand goth chick who was all the rage a couple of years ago -ß ought to check this band out. Dig out that black eyeliner and jump on the L this Friday night. 

Politically Fearless Noir Mexican Psychedelia at Lincoln Center Thursday Night

“This has been a long time in the making,” Lincoln Center’s Meera Dugal told an ecstatic crowd there Thursday evening.  “Tonight you are in for a treat, a powerful and soulful voice.” Then she let Edna Vazquez’s charismatic presence and slinky, thoughtful, psychedelic, often haunting songs speak for themselves.

Maybe the singer/guitarist’s stunningly eclectic blend of styles mirrors her Mexican ancestry, considering that Mexico is every bit as much of a melting pot as the US. “The Mexican government is not so different from this one,” she wryly confided three songs into her set. And then spun through the rapidfire chord changes of a tune that could be characterized as noiriachi…or the great lost Arthur Lee hit from 1966. Did he rip a mariachi riff for the ominous scamper of 7 and 7 Is…or did Vazquez hear that and decide to take that idea to the next level, with a message about freeing ourselves from the distraction that keeps us from joining forces and overthrowing the forces of evil? Or did each artist come up with those ideas completely independently?

Playing acoustic guitar and singing  mostly in Spanish in a formidable, intense mezzo-soprano that often brought to mind Nina Simone, Vazquez and her five-piece band opened with a psychedelic rock number that put a bouncy, syncopated spin on the old Status Quo hit Pictures of Matchstick Men, keyboardist Gil Assayas adding extra menace with his downwardly cascading glockenspiel lines. Then the group – which also included William Marsh on lead guitar, 3 Leg Torso’s Milo Fultz on bass and Jesse Brooke on drums – launched into the first of several slinky numbers that sounded like Love teleported to Mexico City, 1967.

Fultz switched from upright to Fender bass for Do You See, by Vazquez’s old band No Passengers, a kinetic, funk-tinged number with Lynchian lead guitar and keys and a big powerpop chorus –  the Motels gone south of the border. Marsh played allusively uneasy blues on a big anti-globalization anthem; Assayas’ brooding organ and evilly starry keys flickered through the noir new wave number that followed.

From there the band pounced their way through muted trip-hop about the serendipities of meeting random strangers, then driving backbeat rock, a mashup of Cuban rhumba and noir Mexican bolero, and a brisk new wave rock number- is there any style in Spanish or English that this woman can’t write in?

She aired out the big a-cappella intro to Sola, the night’s most dynamic and dramatic anthem, with a dark gospel-flavored intensity that built to righteous 60s soul rage,  When she finally got to the cumbia number that the dancers out on the floor had seemed to be waiting for, it turned out to be a cheery hybrid of vintage soul and Peruvian psychedelia.

An ecstatic crowd called her back for three encores: an understatedly haunting, spare solo acoustic take of the Mexican folk classic La Llorona, a stately, soaring mariachi tune with the band going full steam and then an imploringly resonant soul ballad, which Vazquez sang in English.

Vazquez and band are at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC tomorrow night, Nov 6 at 6 PM; the show is free. And the next concert at Lincoln Center’s atrium space just north of 62nd Street is this Friday, Nov 10 at 7:30 PM, with Afro-Cuban percussionist Roman Diaz joining forces with the Brooklyn Raga Massive  to reinvent classic Indian themes. This show is also free – the earlier you get there, the better.

Dawn Oberg’s Nothing Rhymes With Orange: 2017’s Funniest Political Album

What’s more Halloweenish than Putin’s little bitch in the Oval Office? That’s what Dawn Oberg calls him in the scathingly hilarious, Beatlesque parlor-pop title track of her new ep, Nothing Rhymes with Orange. It’s streaming at Bandcamp, and she’s making a relatively rare New York appearance at 2:45 PM at Matchless in Williamsburg on Nov 12. Similarly lyrical, unpredictable, wickedly catchy keyboard-fueled art-rockers Changing Modes eventually follow later in the evening at 5:45; cover is $10.

Oberg is unsurpasssed at sardonically funny, insightful tunesmithing. With her sharp wit, erudite gospel-inspired piano chops and quirky vocals, she’s been pursuing her distinctive, literary parlor pop and artsy rock since the early zeros. She never met a good pun she could resist, and slings one of those after another at the failed casino magnate whose unlikely ascendancy to the one public office he’ll ever hold left the world in a state of shock and horror last November. Until the slow wheels of impeachment reach their inevitable destination, we have this record to soothe the burn.

Oberg’s band here includes Roger Rocha on guitar, Shawn Miller on bass, Erik Ian Walker on organ and Andrew Laubacher on drums. They shuflfle along with with Oberg’s tumbling piano and torrents of lyrics in Information Is Your Friend, a snide response to the deluge of fake news being sent out by the “tweeting twat” in the White House:

Someone smart said a long time ago, the truth will set you free
And it sucks I even have to say it, that I have to sing and play it…

That disillusion is echoed in I’d Love to Be Wrong, which alludes to Oberg’s classic breakup-as-earthquake anthem End of the Continent:

I see four guys on horses
The sky growing dark,
I can hear the rattle of chains
They ain’t coming to help us
Their hostages already slain

Oberg is no stranger to political satire, or irresistible jokes – her 2008 album is titled Horticulture Wars – but this is the funniest thing she’s ever done. And it’s reason to look forward to what she has to say when hubris catches up with that tweeting twat. Let’s just hope he doesn’t start a real war when he finally figures out that he bit off way too much more than he could chew.

Dark, Brooding, Catchy Powerpop and New Wave From Lauren Hoffman & the Secret Storm

Today’s Halloween album, streaming at Bandcamp, is The Family Ghost, by Lauren Hoffman & the Secret Storm. As with yesterday’s album, it’s anything but cartoonish: the unease is pretty relentless, and when there’s menace, it’s typically implied. The music is on the dark side, blending artsy parlor pop, powerpop, and new wave – and it’s catchy as hell. Hoffman’s clear, uncluttered voice is a powerful vehicle for these mostly sad songs.

The opening track sways along on a trip-hop groove, Hoffman’s elegantly restrained vocals evoking Changing Modes’ Wendy Griffiths over Tony Lechmanski’s lingering, Lynchian guitar clang. And then the song hits a blazing crescendo. It’s about being hunted, and escaping that: it’s not clear who the girl and her little brother are running from. In a city where the subways and buses are on track to become part of a surveillance-based system by 2023, songs like this really resonate.

Feel It All Over is a catchy minor-key new wave powerpop hit bolstered by Ethan Lipscomb’s piano and Cathy Monnes’ one-woman string section, Hoffman’s protagonist determined to live at full throttle until the curtain falls. A Britfolk-tinged waltz amped up with burning guitars, Let the Waves Crash on Me is a love song to a would-be escapee: I’ve got your back, I’ll hold your guns while you make a break for it, Hoffman insists.

Sick With Love is every bit as plainspoken and morose as the title indicates, Hoffman pondering what who’ll miss the random strangers in the street when they’re dead. Over an anthemic four-chord powerpop hook, In the Sun broodingly contemplates the hope for something genuinely transcendent. “I’m not that strong, but I’m strong enough to suffer if that’s the price I have to pay,” she laments.

She goes back to mid 80s style Go-Go’s powerpop with I Just Broke up With a Guy Who Looks Kinda Like You, whose title doesn’t come close to hinting at where the muted, somber vocals and narrative are going. The snarling, Middle Eastern-tinged title track is both the album’s musical high point…and its lyrically weakest track. OK, seduce the dude, whatev. And skip the next track – even some tasty, fluttery cello can’t redeem that one.

With its blend of enigmatic guitar, swooping cello and incisive keys, the album’s most ornate, witchiest number is The Dragon: “You’re a tease and a flirt,” Hoffman tells the monster. The album closes with the sad waltz Til it Lasts: “I won’t be so brave next time,” Hoffman tells herself, “You die for their love, or die of it.” Nothing more Halloweenish than that.

A Creepy, Tasty Treat From Orphan Jane’s Enigmatic Accordionist

Today’s Halloween album – streaming at Bandcamp – is The Sugar Man, the debut release by Timatim Fitfit, the mostly-solo side project by multi-keyboardist Montana Slim, a.k.a. Tim Cluff of creepy noir cabaret band Orphan Jane. It’s a good, weird, disturbing ride.

The opening track is a quavery romp through Walking Stick, a Freudian hokum blues. Cluff takes the album title from the lyric, a sardonic 1920s reference to a guy left out in the cold, literally speaking. Irving Berlin appropriated the song and made it much more coyly funny: this one’s disquieting in a C.W. Stoneking vein. Orphan Jane guitarist Old Man Shorty, a.k.a. Dave Zydallis guests on it; Cluff plays accordion and saloon piano.

The second track is Living in the City, a stabbing parlor pop tune, John Cale mashed up with the Handsome Family:

Taxidermies in your basement
Smell of borax fills the room
I wish I could be resurrected
Like a little grey loon
There are pigeons all around me
They don’t give a shit
If I survive
Or if I drown in it

Feelin’ Good is a twisted, phantasmagorical stroll with echoes of Thelonious Monk. With its funereal organ, glockenspiel and cynical, politically spot-on narrative, the tiptoeing waltz Arctic of Men could be a Tom Warnick tune. Cluff follows that with the even more sarcastic, ragtime-tinged War Machine, Zydallis’ ominously tremoloing guitar soaring overhead. Then Seeders and Leachers reaches for the phantasmagorical scamper of their main band.

Down the Fells is a lush, Celtic-tinged ballad as John Cale might have done  it on Paris 1919. The surreal tale Flowers By the Door has some deliciously wistful accordion. The album’s funniest and strangest track is Dog in a Manger, a slowly waltzing robot’s dilemma: in a dystopian nightmare, humans aren’t the only ones who suffer.

The album winds up with the morosely oldtimey Another Shitty Day, and then Low Batteries, a desperate escape anthem that’s the album’s least stylized and most genuinely creepy track.

Fun fact: if you’re wondering what the band name means, it’s sort of the Ethiopian equivalent of fattoush. 

An Edgy Debut Album and a Williamsburg Show by Intense Cello Rockers the Icebergs

The Icebergs are New York’s hardest-working cello band. No disrespect to the great Serena Jost, but the Icebergs maintain a punishing late-night gig schedule. If there’s any midnight band in New York, it’s the trio of frontwoman Jane LeCroy, cellist Tom Abbs and O’Death drummer David Rogers-Berry. That’s even more impressive when you consider that LeCroy also fronts the similarly intense, politically fearless avant garde duo Ohmslice with multi-instrumentalist Brandon Ross. The Icebergs have an edgy debut album, Eldorado, streaming at Bandcamp and Ohmslice have a show this Friday night at 8:30 PM at Pete’s.

If you can forgive the appropriation of an iconic album title (ELO’s epic, symphonic 1974 masterpiece is arguably the greatest rock record ever made), this is an edgy, lyrical treat. The opening track, Needleworker is about piecing things back together, literally and metaphorically, LeCroy’s soulful, blues-infused voice channeling 19th century African-American gospel starkness as she chronicles everything she’s got to stitch up over a brisk groove spiced with all sorts of tasty low-midrange riffs from Abbs. This gist of it is that this century’s American culture is hardly woman-friendly.

Sonnets 57 & 58 is a propulsive, echoingly uneasy 6/8 art-rock shuffle, Abbs’ terse overdubs and distant washes of sound over Rogers-Berry’s savagely ornate attack, a cynical, Shakespearean-inspired cautionary tale about women subjugating themselves. The catchy, witchy, hard-hitting Similitude could be a particularly energetic track from Rasputina’s first album

Then the band slows down with Proves My Love, a spare, darkly bluesy, imagistic account of less-than blissful domesticity: “Prison keeps you away from me, I visit you eternally,” LeCroy intones matter-of-factly .

Abbs rattles around a tasty reggae bass riff, Rogers-Berry answering back as Broken Heart vamps along: “I’ll take all your pieces put them together then smash your crown,” Le Croy announces. Swear looks back to an iconic, bluesy Stooges classic, Abbs overdubbing shivery, evil guitar licks way up the fingerboard over the drums’ fluttery accents.

“I’m a different ghost every day,” LeCroy muses in Gold, over a Siouxsie-esque vintage new wave pulse and Abbs’ gritty, distorted multitracks. Borders mingles Raw Power-era Stooges blues with Slits minimalism – it’s as vivid a menacing late-night-urban tableau as it is a defiant Trump-era anthem.

“I can’t find my Eldorado,” LeCroy laments over Abbs’ slinky, bouncing, gnawa-tinged bassline in Bad Map; then she takes her Kafkaesque search further toward hip-hop. As Abbs does throughout many of these songs, he works a lingering/rhythmic dichotomy for all it’s worth in Draw Me. Over an anguished whirl obscuring the song’s ominously bluesy undercurrent, LeCroy offers a catalog of doomed imagery in the album’s most intense track, Gun:

Everything tries
Everything fails
This life is a cross
And a bunch of nails

An echoey mashup of dub reggae and cello metal, Dear Lifeguard is a similarly gloomy oceanside tableau. The album winds up on a similar note with the surreal Decode. In a city oversaturated with vapid indie conformity, it’s good to see these three keeping the spirit of smart, individualistic, fearlessly relevant downtown New York rock alive.

Abraham Brody Brings His Mystical Reinventions of Ancient Shamanic Themes to Williamsburg

Lithuanian-American violinist/composer Abraham Brody covers a lot of ground. In a wry bit of Marina Abramovic-inspired theatricality, he’ll improvise as he stares into your eyes, a most intimate kind of chamber concert. He also leads the intriguing Russian avant-folk quartet Pletai (“ritual”) with vocalist-multi-instrumentalists Masha Medvedchenkova, Ilya Sharov and Masha Marchenko, who reinvent ancient Lithuanian folk themes much in the same vein as Igor Stravinsky appropriated them for The Rite of Spring. The group are on the bill as the latest installment in Brody’s ongoing series of performances at National Sawdust on Oct 5 at 7:30 PM. Advance tix are $20 and highly recommended.

Brody’s album From the Dark Rich Earth is streaming at Spotify. It opens with the methodically tiptoeing It’s Already Dawn, its tricky interweave of pizzicato, vocals and polyrhythms bringing to mind a male-fronted Rasputina. The ominously atmospheric Leliumoj goes deep into that dark rich earth, disembodied voices sandwiched between an accordion drone and solo violin angst.

Green Brass keeps the atmospheric calm going for a bit and then leaps along, Brody’s wary Lithuanian vocals in contrast with increasingly agitated, circular violin. Aching atmospherics build to a bitterly frenetic dance in Orphan Girl.  In Linden Tree, a web of voices weaves a trippy round, joined by plaintively lustrous strings.

Father Was Walking Through the Ryefield begins with what sounds like an old a-cappella field recording, then dances along on the pulse of the violin and vocal harmonies, rising to a triumphant peak. Oh, You Redbush, with its hazy atmosphere, and insistently crescendoing bandura, reaches toward majestic art-rock and then recedes like many of the tracks here. Likewise, the mighty peaks and desolate valleys in The Old Oak Tree.

Spare rainy-day piano echoes and then builds to angst-fueled neoromanticism in the distantly imploring I Asked. Strings echo sepulchrally as the ominous, enigmatic Litvak gets underway. Then the band build an otherworldly maze of echoing vocal counterpoint behind Brody’s stark violin in Trep Trepo, Martela.

The group revisit the atmosphere of the opening cut, but more gently, in Green Rue, at least until one of the album’s innumerable, unexpected crescendos kicks in. The final cut is the forcefully elegaic piano ballad A Thistle Grows. Fans of Mariana Sadovska’s bracing reinventions of Capathian mountain music, Aram Bajakian’s sepulchral take on Armenian folk themes or Ljova’s adventures exploring the roots of The Rite of Spring will love this stuff.

Tredici Bacci Kiss the Sky at Barbes

This is what old NEC students do when they’ve had too much to drink: play slow, simmering oldschool soul vamps, take a stab at faux-operatic vocals and then bop their way through a bunch of summery, serpentine instrumentals inspired by 60s Italian cinema. At their most recent Barbes gig back in July, Tredici Bacci did all that tighter than most bands could do sober.

Not everybody in the band was half in the bag. Singer Sami Stevens was a force of nature and then some, giving the music all the drama it demanded with her full-throttle vibrato and passion worthy of a primo Sophia Loren role. Keyboardist Evan Allen went from creepy with his tremoloing funeral organ, into outer space with the synth and then all the way back to the Middle Ages with a wry electric harpsichord patch.

The strings shimmered and shivered behind the blaze and blips of the horns – this is a big band – through a cheery mix of mostly original material, a lot of which sounded like 60s Burt Bacharach on steroids. They did one Morricone cover, but in a similar vein. The lone spaghetti western number, late in the set, was an original, and turned out to be the night’s best song.

Bandleader/guitarist Simon Hanes was in a surreal mood: “Gimme a generic bossa,” he ordered the band, and they obliged: practice this enough at conservatory and you can pull it off in a split-second like this crew. Then he had Stevens free-associate on random topics over the music, and she ran with it: she’s funny, and managed not to embarrass herself. The effect was akin to Ingrid Sertso doing her stream-of-consciousness jazz poetry thing with Karl Berger’s improvisational big band, but at doublespeed and a couple of generations removed.

Barbes is home base to a whole slew of the funnest bands in town: organ-fueled psychedelic surf rockers Hearing Things; mesmerizing Moroccan trance-dance band Innov Gnawa; Afrobeat monsters Super Yamba; fiery Ethiopian jamband Anbessa Orchestra; spectacular Bollywood cumbia band Bombay Rickey; and at the top of the list, slinky noir soundtrack trio Big Lazy.  Count Tredici Bacci as one of the newer additions to the elite: they’re back at Barbes on Sept 28 at 10 PM. The Austin Piazzolla Quintet, who open the night at 8, play both classic nuevo tango and originals in the same vein and are also excellent.

And Stevens also leads an oldschool soul group whose next gig is at the Parkside (the Brooklyn boite at 705 Flatbush Ave between  Winthrop and Parkside,  no relation to the Manhattan one) – on Oct 20 at 9:30 PM.

Celebrating a Tragic, Iconoclastic Hungarian Hero at the National Arts Club

Wouldn’t you wash your hands after you touched a corpse? Hospital physicians at Vienna’s Algelemine Krankenhaus didn’t. From a 21st century perspective, the results were predictably catastrophic.

Ray Lustig’s grim, powerfully resonant song cycle Semmelweis, which premiered on September 11 at the National Arts Club, begins in 1848, One of Europe’s deadliest outbreaks of puerperal fever is killing one in ten new mothers at the hospital. Hungarian-born obstetrician Ignac Semmelweis is at a loss to explain it.

Semmelweis was a tragic hero in the purest sense of the word. Decades before Louis Pasteur, Semmelweis discovered the bacterial connection for disease transmission. But rather than being celebrated for his discovery and for saving countless of his own patients, he was derided as a medical heretic,  ended up losing his mind and died alone in a mental asylum seventeen years later. If not for the reactionary Viennese medical establishment, terrified of being blamed for the epidemic, today we would say “semmelweissed” instead of “pasteurized.” In an age where leakers are murdered, whistleblowers are jailed as terrorists and 9/11 historians are derided as conspiracy theorists, this story has enormous relevance.

And the music turned out to be as gripping as the narrative. Out in front of an impressively eclectic twelve-piece ensemble for the marjority of the performance, soprano Charlotte Mundy dexterously showed off a vast grasp of all sorts of styles, singing Matthew Doherty’s allusively foreboding lyrics to Lustig’s shapeshifting melodies. Pianist Katelan Terrell. accordionist Peter Flint and violinist Sam Katz wove an alternately austere and lustrous backdrop for the rest of the singers: Lustig himself in the role of Semmelweis, alongside Marcy Richardson, Catherine Hancock, Brett Umlauf, Charlotte Dobbs, Jennifer Panara and Guadalupe Peraza.

The suite began with a wash of close harmonies and ended on a similarly otherworldly note with a Hungarian lullaby sung in eerily kaleidoscopic counterpoint by the choir. The story unwound mostly in flashbacks – by women in peril, ghosts or Semmelweis himself, tormented to the grave by all the dead women he wasn’t able to save.

Many of the songs had a plaintive neoromanticism: the most sepulchral moments were where the most demanding extended technique came into play, glissandoing and whispering and vertiginously shifting rhythms. That’s where the group dazzled the most. Recurrent motives packed a wallop as well, voicing both the dread of the pregnant women and Semmelweis’ self-castigation for not having been able to forestall more of the epidemic’s toll than he did. The Hungarian government will celebrate the bicentennial of Semmelweis’ birth next year, a genuine national hero.