Muhly I Drink the Air before Me

Music to be danced to – but does it satisfy without the visual element?

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Muhly I Drink the Air before Me

  • I Drink the Air before Me

This is Nico Muhly’s second album for Decca, from which we’ll presume his Decca debut, “A Good Understanding”, did pretty well (12/10). And why wouldn’t it? Muhly’s compositional obsessions intersect with a strain of “Yes we can” populism but without collapsing into Karl Jenkins. The good, albeit unlikely, understanding of “A Good Understanding” was that post-Glassian harmonies could coexist with choral sonorities distilled from Howells and Vaughan Williams. But, of course, finding a niche within the market doesn’t mean your music is per se any good.

With its striking David Hockneyesque cover image and slim gatefold sleeve, “I Drink the Air Before Me” is designed not to look like an everyday classical release and, perhaps, to reach out to an audience who know Muhly from his work with Björk and indie band Grizzly Bear. The work was composed for the Stephen Petronio Dance Company in 2008 and Muhly describes Petronio’s two non-negotiable demands: the score had to be bookended by a children’s choir and, to accompany choreography based around storms, the music needed to be “whirring, irregular, spiral-shaped”.

At his most inspired, Muhly deals up mesmerising overlays of material. In the second number, clashing tonalities on flute, bassoon and brass are traced over a fluttering organ motif that glues the montage in place but without compromising the blocky rhythmic independence of each part. And over the long haul, Muhly’s compositional nous binds the 12 sections together tightly, avoiding a structurally vanilla sequence of episodes. But what a pity about that saccharine writing for children’s choir. Talk about Shirley Temple sentiment!

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