Roger O'Donnell with Julia Kent: Love and Other Tragedies

Individual releases by Roger O'Donnell and Julia Kent have been featured before in these pages, but this is the first time a joint recording by the two has crossed textura's desk. It's an inspired pairing that sees O'Donnell, well known for being The Cure's keyboard player, on piano complemented by Kent's luscious cello playing. To his credit, the solo work he's released shares little in common stylistically with the material produced by Robert Smith and company; instead, O'Donnell has pursued a classical direction, a no better example of which is the forty-six-minute Love and Other Tragedies. Other material he's composed in recent years includes The Bernhard Suite, a work for chamber orchestra based on Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, and Quieter Trees, a suite inspired by a David Hockney painting.

O'Donnell and Kent first collaborated on a three-movement suite for piano and four cellos based on the Scheherazade saga and encouraged by the successful outcome of the venture decided to continue their collaboration by creating two more story-based pieces for an album featuring all three compositions. The original plan was for O'Donnell to write the Tristan and Isolde material and Kent the piece based on Orpheus and Eurydice, but her busy touring schedule led to O'Donnell writing both. In keeping with the Scheherazade work, the decision was made to have the others be three-movement pieces and to score them for piano and two to four cellos, too. That Kent was required to play all of the cello parts posed no difficulty for someone whose solo recordings feature multiple examples of her deftly executed looping and layering.

Not uncommon by today's standards, the recording involved O'Donnell sending piano files and scores from his studio in England's rural Devon to Kent in New York where the cello parts were added in her home studio. The opening Tristan and Isolde establishes the tone for the recording, with O'Donnell's elegant patterns providing an uncluttered backdrop to Kent's ravishing, multi-layered playing. Her ascending melodic phrases imbue “Tristan” with a yearning quality that's affecting, while the stately “Isolde” feels rather more wistful by comparison. Apparently, there was a moment during the early production stages when O'Donnell thought he might have to record the material with other cellists than Kent due to scheduling conflicts, but thankfully everything worked out as it did. Her presence on the recording is a major reason why it satisfies as much as it does.

O'Donnell resists the urge to overembellish and opts instead for simplicity and directness throughout; in some instances, in fact, he plays nothing more than chords. Further to that, the piano spotlights that occur in the lilting opening part of Orpheus and Eurydice catch one's ear not just for being so pretty but for being so rare. And though Kent is clearly the primary lead voice on the album, she likewise refrains from soloing unrestrainedly, choosing instead to hew closely to the melodies as written. As she does on her own recordings, she enriches her playing with a host of techniques; during Scheherezade's dramatic opening movement, “Le Roi,” for instance, and its stately second, “La Princesse,” one hears her blending pizzicatto and bowed playing. Such restraint on the part of both players ultimately works in the album's favour in allowing the lyrical quality and melodic richness of the music to be most clearly conveyed. Here's a recording that's strengthened equally by the high quality of the musical performances and the compositional writing.

June 2015