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Tarnow: Theremin Sonatas

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Customer Reviews

Interesting/strange/fascinating/weird and beautiful music featuring Theremin

This CD consists of Original Works for Theremin and Piano by Christopher Tarnow, who accompanies Thereminist Carolina Eyck on the Piano. For those that aren’t familiar with the Theremin, it is perhaps best generally known as the instrument responsible for the other-worldly sound on the theme song to the television series Star Trek.

The CD itself features four pieces, the first being Sonata No. 1 written in 2013. In a way, the listener is given a gentle introduction into the soundscape that the Theremin is capable of providing, and that is a positive given that it is an unusual sounding electronic instrument that can be made to sound a bit like an electronic violin on steroids capable of making long duration flying saucer-like sounds. The 2nd movement, though, is gentle and evocative and the sound of the Theremin draws the listener in, while the piano accompaniment provides detailed emotional support. The 3rd movement, however, starts off just strangely. While it does showcase some of the uber-vibrato flying sounds that the Theremin is capable of, there are a number of sections where the piano’s bombastic accompaniment turned the movement into something that I wanted to disconnect from. Near the end of the movement, everything slows down and lowers in pitch incrementally, and a more traditional resigned musical finish occurs (thank goodness!).

The next work is Intermezzo No. 1, a short work that provides an engaging reflective atmosphere supported by both instruments as they seemingly respond to each other gently as old friends sometimes do.

Following that is Sonata No. 2, and again the piano gets a bit bombastic while the more esoteric and long duration non-stop vocalizations of its partner go a bit off the edge for this listener. There are sections where the solo Theremin is allowed to quietly speak, and for me it was those interludes that provided a sonic break for my ears. Part of this has to do with the unusual nature of the sound combination, and part has to do with what the piano is doing (and seems to do a bit more frequently than I care for in numerous contemporary works). As for the 3rd movement, while it is interesting it does rather go off into the sonic weeds. The work as a whole is much darker than Sonata No. 1, but on the whole I really didn’t care for this piece.
The last piece on the CD is Intermezzo No. 2, and it is a rather somber affair, providing a pleasing (albeit not uplifting) contrast to the other works featured here. That being said, I do prefer it to the previous Sonata work.
The liner notes are well written and informative, with sections written by each of the performers. In Mr. Tarnow’s section, he states that “it quickly became clear to me that I wanted to compose music which – while taking all the special properties of the instrument into consideration – places in the foreground not the theremin itself but instead the musician’s playing and interpretative ability.” For me, this explains the “showing off” and strangeness of some of the sections in the two sonatas, which is unfortunate because had the focus been more on the expressiveness of the musical ideas themselves, I believe the experience for this listener would have been much richer.
There is also a wonderful bonus video on the CD that features Carolina Eyck discussing the Theremin itself and essentially giving the view “Theremin 101”. It is fascinating, and it is a treat to see her interacting with the instrument in precise controlled ways, as well as explaining the four electronic pedal devices she uses when playing her instrument.
Were it not for the video, I likely would have given the CD an average rating, even though the recording is well engineered and interesting, as musically it felt like there was more to be explored and expounded upon here. But my overall experience was greatly enhanced by Ms. Eyck’s video. This was worthwhile for me to get, and I am pleased that I have this in my collection.

Tarnow: Theremin Sonatas, Carolina Eyck
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