Classical music is proving a source of inspiration in some unlikely corners. After Adamski’s reinvention of the German waltz for his first album in 15 years, and Ólafur Arnalds’ concept album around the music of Chopin with Alice Sara Ott, Chilly Gonzales returns with a reimagining of Romantic-era chamber music for today’s listeners.
Gonzales has previous in this area, having written two collections of piano music in the vein of Philip Glass, and having performed his own Piano Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. And while Chilly Gonzales’ Chambers might sound like a collection of rooms containing all manner of gruesome secrets, they are in fact providing a refreshing view of an elderly form of music.
Chamber concerts, while clearly not the preserve of the elderly, are often polite, seated affairs conducted in near-silence while a small group of musicians negotiate their way through a series of established master works – Beethoven String Quartets, Mozart Serenades for Wind, Brahms Violin Sonatas – that sort of thing.
All of which is fine, but Gonzales wants to bring an appealing freshness to the form, throwing open the concert hall doors and windows to allow the light in. Crucially his source material is original and durable, easy to listen to but well developed too. His collaborators, the Kaiser Quartett, play with energy, charm and enthusiasm.
There are riffs but they are intricately worked into music that could just as easily be heard on electronics. Yet that would remove the clarity and quality of Gonzales’ instrumentation in songs like the slightly mournful Freudian Slippers, where the simple act of the pianist knocking on the boards of the instrument becomes part of the attractive, slightly jazzy direction the music takes towards the end.
Advantage Points is a case in point, a kind of tennis match where the key points are played with vigour, pulling back on occasion to more relaxed rallies between the instruments. Sweet Burden, dedicated to Gabriel Fauré, captures the French composer’s wistful nature and also his talent with long-breathed melodies. Cello Gonzales, Green’s Leaves and Switchcraft indicate in their song titles a subtle but merry mischief, which Prelude To A Feud taps into as a natural extension of Bach. Finally he sings on the attractive Myth Me. “Better say a long farewell, before you know this song too well,” he advises.
One of the easy criticisms often thrown at people who have the ability to operate in pop and classical areas is that their resultant material falls between the two stalls without ever convincing. ‘Chamber’, however, is stylish and well-worked, Chilly using his small but perfectly formed ensemble of piano and string quartet to good effect. The melodies are not always distinctive, but there is plenty of interest to their development.
The natural recording also helps – not too clinical, and with a few tuning imperfections that actually add to the humanity of the music. Chilly is on to something here, with a collection of small-scale musical postcards ready to charm anyone lucky enough to receive them.