First Day

Laura Metcalf / Matei Varga

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First Day Review

by James Manheim

The title First Day, in the words of the young cellist Laura Metcalf, refers to how "[t]his album represents many firsts, beginnings, and youthful sentiments" for Metcalf and her pianist collaborator, Matei Varga. It's a fair summary of the album's sunny, energetic mood, and it points to Metcalf's personal connections with a couple of the composers on the program. The program is significant, however, in a deeper and more innovative way: what Metcalf offers is a set of works deeply informed by popular music without being "crossover." She draws links among tango and Argentine creole music, Eastern European nationalism, contemporary North American rock, and the French Baroque, making these all fit together in a way no one has before. The music never gets too heavy or too light, and Metcalf's enthusiastic, but perfectly controlled, tone in the weightiest work on the program, George Enescu's Cello Sonata in F minor, is worth sampling in itself (track 8). Her insistence that the works by composers she knows (Caleb Burhans and Dan Visconti) belongs alongside the national traditions of the early 20th century represents a way forward for classical music, and when she breaks into a little Poulenc song at the end, the listener is likely to have to be restrained from taking off into the stratosphere. Superb sound from Sono Luminus, one of the few American labels playing in the engineering big leagues, is a bonus.

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