Madeleine Shapiro

Electricity: Works for Cello and Electronics

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Cellist Madeleine Shapiro is a longstanding advocate of contemporary music, both as soloist and as co-founder of the New York-based new music ensemble ModernWorks. Electricity is not only the title of her solo debut disc for Albany Records, but also a program she plays in concerts centering on the voice of the cello interacting with tape and/or various electronic gadgets, which she handles expertly; this Albany disc is an expanded version of the standard concert program. Shapiro has worked extensively with composer Ge Gan-Ru, and one outstanding feature of Electricity is her interpretation of Yi Feng (Lost Style, 1982), often accorded status as the first Chinese work of the avant-garde and already reckoned in some circles as a classic of post-modernism. Though recorded well already by its dedicatee Frank Su Huang, Shapiro significantly diversifies the piece through adding amplification and perhaps a small amount of slapback-type reverb, perhaps courtesy of a guitar pedal. It is undeniably effective, as is her gritty reading of Michael Gordon's Industry (1992), which nearly sounds like an industrial guitar solo, only more controlled and cultured.

Karen Tanaka's The Song of Songs (1996) is a beautiful, panoramic, and atmospheric piece, somewhat similar in style to her slightly later Frozen Horizon, but The Song of Songs is tropical and warm. Jukka Tiensuu's oddjob (1995), which also exists in a version for viola, makes effective use of stereophonic phasing effects, whereas Kaija Saariaho's Petals (1988) focuses on special sound production methods the cello is capable of naturally, and suggests electronics "ad libitum." Mario Davidovsky's Synchronisms No. 3 for cello and electronics (1964) hearkens back to a different era when the live soloist and electronics on tape remained essentially separate elements that interacted somewhat by accident. Technology has changed to such an extent that it was a wise choice for Shapiro to include this work for the sake of context.

The only thing a bit disappointing about Electricity is that the frequency response of the CD is a little shallow, and some events going on in the substratum of Shapiro's playing appear to dip below the threshold of audibility. To hear the rest, one may well be required to catch Shapiro in concert; however, Electricity is a good stopgap and a first-class showcase of the state of the art in terms of the role of the cello in electronic music.

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