Himmelsrandt: Schneeland
Unperceived Records

Peter Honsalek chose to title the eight pieces on his debut Himmelsrandt collection using Roman numerals so that no concrete impression would form in the listener's mind before hearing them. He needn't worry: the depersonalized approach to track titling turns out to be the only prosaic thing about this fine collection of modern ambient-classical music by the German pianist, violist, and composer. Adding to the material's atmospheric character are evocative field recordings and electronics, while a guest identified only as U.K. is credited with drums, guitars, bass, and synthesizer on the project.

Pitched as an “homage to introspection through isolation,” Schneeland is structured in two four-part totals, with the first centering on snowfall and the second the landscape formed by it. The forty-four-minute album certainly lives up to its billing: the first sound one hears is a misty one suggestive of snowfall, though that element recedes from view once the grand piano seizes control. Honsalek doesn't set out to impress as a virtuoso yet the opening setting leaves no doubt as to his advanced facility as a pianist, while the second builds on that impression by showcasing his luscious string playing. In such moments, the distance separating Field Rotation and Himmelsrandt is small indeed, and just to be clear that's no bad thing.

Par for the ambient-classical music course, the instrumentals alternate between elegiac, brooding, and quietly uplifting moods, and Honsalek demonstrates sensitivity in his handling of texture and arrangement. Piano and strings are naturally the foreground elements, and synthesizers, electronics, and field recordings are used as sweetener. From the stately meditation “III” to the baroque-styled “IV,” memorable for its multi-layered strings-centric presentation, Schneeland is an album that rarely falters. If there are missteps, it's in Honsalek's decision to morph “VI” from a disarmingly beautiful setting into a raucous, post-rock blaze and include the sound of someone trudging through snow during “VII.” Variety isn't unwelcome, but his music is already so forceful that such over-emphatic gestures seem unnecessary, not to mention out of step with the rest of the album.

April 2016