Nadia Sirota: First Things First
New Amsterdam

Violist Nadia Sirota impresses with a classy debut album featuring innovative works by contemporary composers Nico Muhly, Marcos Balter, and Judd Greenstein. Much of the recording features Sirota playing solo, with the New York-based player joined by cellist Clarice Jensen and The Chiara String Quartet on respective pieces. The young (mid-twenties) Juilliard School graduate has already played in various capacities with The Meredith Monk Ensemble, Alarm Will Sound, Grizzly Bear, My Brightest Diamond, Itzhak Perlman, the Silk Road Ensemble, and with members of Kronos Quartet. She certainly shows herself to be an assured and expressive player throughout First Things First.

Sirota and cellist Jensen pursue labyrinthine trails throughout the pensive, ten-minute opener “Duet No. 1, Chorale Pointing Downwards.” Jensen proves an able foil for Sirota in the Muhly setting, whether providing a pedal-point anchor for the violist or gentle support for the affecting elegiac episode that occurs near the end. Though Muhly's “Étude 1A” are “Étude 1” are said to be performed by Sirota alone, bright, flute-like organ tones and a bass pulse follow her every move during the jaunty Irish-styled jig; regardless, the settings add a welcome degree of joyful levity to the recording. Balter's “Ut” and “Live Water” are more textural in character, with the latter even adding Sirota's whispered commentary to its ambient instrumental mass. In the recording's longest track, Greenstein's “Escape,” Sirota flies solo for fourteen minutes, in this case navigating the composition's stop-start somersaults and insistent melodic cells with ease (here too the most affecting section appears near the end where Sirota's playing drops to a whisper). Greenstein's beautiful, dream-like “The Night Gatherers” is the album's most lush setting—not surprisingly, given that Sirota's accompanied by The Chiara String Quartet—and its most romantic and elegiac. Listening to the thirteen-minute setting, it's hard not to think of it as Greenstein's own “Transfigured Night.”

July 2009