Dustin O'Halloran: Lumiere

Dustin O'Halloran's Lumiere is the kind of album that's so incredibly good, one longs to have been present when the 130701 label executives listened to it for the first time and saw their jaws collectively drop in unison upon doing so. It's not often when we're presented with such a seemingly flawless set of compositions and arrangements but that appears to be the case here. The recording, issued on FatCat's 130701 imprint (reserved for the work of more orchestral or classically aligned composers) and recorded over a three-year span in New York, Berlin, and Italy, follows two solo piano albums (Solos Volume 1 and Volume 2, both on Bella Union) and 2010's stunning Vorleben with a sonically enhanced collection of piano-and-strings-based pieces; guest contributors include the NYC-based Acme String Ensemble, Stars Of The Lid's Adam Wiltzie (on guitar), and Peter Broderick (on violin). That its nine tracks were recorded in such contrasting settings—consider the intensity of New York next to the peacefulness of rural Italy—offers some hint of the album's range, with solo piano settings of the gentlest kind side-by-side with expansively arranged pieces for strings and piano.

“A Great Divide” opens the album in a slightly unexpected way in having chimes and electronic treatments gently mingle without a piano anywhere in sight, but of course that changes when O'Halloran's piano waterfalls tentatively enter, followed by elegiac string writing that will grace other parts of the abum too. It's a ruminative and melancholy prelude to a collection whose lyrical qualities clearly demonstrate why O'Halloran finds himself so in-demand as a soundtrack composer (two of his scores include Sofia Coppola's 2006 Marie Antoinette and William Olsen's 2010 An American Affair), given that his three-minute vignettes often play like scene-based set-pieces that could be integrated with ease into a prototypical film adaptation of a Victorian Romance (something on the order of those Dario Marianelli created for Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice and Atonement). The quietly insistent piano patterns that animate “We Move Lightly” are augmented by string flourishes that at first enter so subtly they seem almost subliminal but then swell in intensity as the piece develops. Here perhaps more than anywhere else the material exudes a soundtrack quality, as one easily could imagine the piece appearing as accompaniment to a romantic rendezvous betwixt some Jane Austen couple surreptitiously conducted under cover of rainfall—“We Move Lightly,” indeed.

O'Halloran's delicate touch is evident during the wistful solo piano setting “Opus 44,” with the composer able to conjure beauty in under three minutes. He plays with an unhurried elegance in “Opus 43” until his solo piano is fleshed out by the ruminations of a small string section. Beautiful moments abound as well during “Quartet N. 2,” with its ravishing string quartet playing, and “Quintette N.1,” filled as it is with sombre cascades and melancholy arpeggios. A sense of day fading permeates the closing piece “Snow + Light,” especially when the soft crackle of a field recording appears alongside a graceful unfurl of piano and strings that slowly blossoms. And to be presented with moments of such quiet yet powerful beauty as are heard during the lilting “Fragile N. 4,” perhaps the album's most affecting piece, is a rare and precious thing indeed. Lumiere is a thing of beauty that will be like aural catnip to listeners whose taste runs to Nils Frahm, Eluvium, Goldmund, Max Richter, Sylvain Chauveau, Hauschka, and Peter Broderick.

February 2011