ZINK The Cloud of Unknowing: Explorations in Chamber Music
The title of this disc of chamber music for strings by Canadian-born Steve Zink, ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’, is curiously (and, I suspect, unintentionally) apt. Azédarac’s disc is remarkably uninformative aside from composition names and who plays what. The only dates are copyright ones. (2018: were they all written then? The composer’s website is just as unhelpful.) There is no hint of any piece’s inspiration or expressive aims, just a blandly grand statement that his intention is to ‘facilitate encounter with that depth dimension that operates …beyond good and evil. The aim here is not symbolization but incantation.’ For a disc subtitled ‘Explorations in Chamber Music’ – what, where is he exploring? – this is curiously uncommunicative, the listener’s enforced ‘unknowing’ rather self-defeating, as if discovering new territory only in the unlit dark.
Were the music more interesting this might not matter. The opening half of the programme contains three songs without words for cello and piano – performed very nicely by Alexis Castrogiovanni (who plays throughout) and accompanist Abigail Sánchez – punctuated by two brief quintets, Cipher and the title-track. They are all pleasant background music in an anonymous, minimalist-like manner. None really goes anywhere and all say rather less.
None of the performers sound taxed by the music’s technical demands, nor energised particularly, either. The String Quintet strikes me as the most grateful to perform (and listen to) if only because it is of sufficient length – 20 minutes – for everyone to get really involved in it. Its swift opening movement is rather catchy, the overlong slower central span (Zink merely numbers the movements, leaving no clues for the audience) nicely lyrical. The finale balances the whole well. The Quartet, although in four movements, is rather slighter, each movement expiring without really reaching a conclusion and leaving this listener at any rate feeling unsatisfied.