Clancy Newman and Natalie Zhu : Method to Madness Review
Clancy Newman and Natalie Zhu : Method to Madness: The American Sound
On August 1, 2023, Albany Records unveiled a masterful tapestry of sound and emotion with the release of From Method to Madness: The American Sound. This exquisite recording is a collaborative effort between longtime friends and accomplished musicians, cellist Clancy Newman and pianist Natalie Zhu. Both artists have journeyed through deeply personal musical trajectories, and their shared album is a celebration of American composers, innovative methods, and a dynamic understanding of music.
The conception of this album is almost serendipitous. Born out of a virtual performance for the Kingston Chamber Music Festival amidst the haunting isolation of the pandemic, the album symbolizes the essence of resilience, creativity, and collaboration. A patron, enamored by the duo’s chemistry and the stirring compositions, envisioned this album and played a pivotal role in its realization. It’s indeed an extraordinary alignment of passion, talent, and opportunity, culminating in a compelling narrative.
The program begins with Samuel Barber’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in C Minor, Op. 6, a piece reflective of Barber’s innate knack for melody and song. The three movements elegantly unfold Barber’s European inspirations and his association with fellow composer Gian-Carlo Menotti.
Newman’s performance in the “Allegro ma non troppo” movement reflects his depth of tone, nuanced pitch, and articulated phrasing, which all paint a picture of European landscapes and summer interludes. Zhu’s accompaniment during the “Adagio” is sensitive, and her touch on the piano keys is feather-light yet intense, weaving a silken backdrop against which Newman’s cello serenades. The melodic exchanges between the cello and piano evoke a tender dance of shadows and lights, reminiscent of Barber’s European sojourns and his camaraderie with Menotti.
The concluding movement, “Allegro appassionato,” pulses with an energetic fervor, revealing both Barber’s compositional brilliance and the artist’s virtuosity. In tandem, Newman and Zhu encapsulate the movement’s fiery spirit, bringing the sonata to a close with both gusto and grace.
Kenji Bunch’s Broken Music for Cello and Piano is an intense exploration of the concept of “brokenness.” Making its commercial debut in this album, each of its four movements paints a vivid portrait of emotional and sonic fragmentation – from the wrenching, raw quality of a “Broken Voice” to the intense, pulsating energy of “Broken Music.” The piece is also notable for its use of extended techniques. The cello and piano are used in unconventional ways, and the performers are asked to play with their fingers, bows, and even their bodies. This creates a variety of sounds and textures that contribute to the overall sense of fragmentation.
Each of the four movements each movement unravels a unique tapestry of sound and sentiment. “Broken Voice” teases the ears with a spirited dance between the cello and piano, an aural celebration of the myriad tones and timbres they can conjure. This playful start is sharply contrasted by the jarring tones of “Broken Chord,” a movement riddled with dissonance. Here, arpeggiated chords shimmer against the backdrop of jagged melodies, invoking a sense of tension and urgency. As if to soothe the stirred emotions, “Broken Verse” emerges, a river of languid beauty. In this movement, the cello truly sings — its voice, a poignant lullaby, narrates tales of forgotten love and fleeting moments. The culmination, “Broken Music,” is an audacious symphony of chaos. Stretching the longest, it weaves a narrative of disarray and fragmentation, a sonic landscape where order is continuously shattered and reshaped. Together, these movements traverse the spectrum of emotion, from whimsy to anguish and from serenity to anarchy.
The album culminates with Clancy Newman’s titular piece, From Method to Madness. This composition is an emblem of Newman’s audacious experimentation with The Golden Ratio, a method he discovered and ardently explored. What begins as a disciplined journey into mathematical beauty gradually transcends into an energetic, jazzy fervor, making it an audacious end to a beautifully crafted album. The first movement, “Method,” is a slow and deliberate movement that establishes the basic musical materials of the piece. The second movement, “Madness,” is more chaotic and unpredictable, exploring the possibilities of the cello and piano in an unconventional way. The third movement, “Reconciliation,” brings the piece to a close in a more peaceful and reflective mood.
The title of the piece refers to how the piece explores the tension between logic and creativity. The “Method” movement represents the logical side of the piece, while the “Madness” movement represents the creative side. The “Reconciliation” movement brings the two sides together, suggesting that they are not mutually exclusive.
From Method to Madness is a challenging and rewarding piece to perform. It requires a high level of technical skill and musicality from the cellist and the pianist. The composition is also a thought-provoking and challenging listen, and it can be interpreted in many different ways.
The collaboration between Newman and Zhu is palpable in every note, every pause, and every crescendo. Zhu, revered for her powerful interpretations, finds a harmonious partner in Newman’s versatile abilities as a cellist and a composer. Their shared history and mutual respect for the music and each other are evident in the depth and intricacy of their performance.
The project is an ode to American sounds, resilience in the face of adversity, and the magic that can emerge when like-minded souls come together. With its pristine production quality – thanks to the masterful touch of Andreas Meyer at Swan Studios and the acoustic wonders of Troy Savings Bank Music Hall – every nuance is captured in this recording, offering an immersive experience to the listener.
In conclusion, From Method to Madness: The American Sound is a program that leads us on a journey through time, emotions, challenges, and victories. It’s defined by friendship, collaboration, and the power of music to heal, unite, and inspire. Highly recommended.
Clancy Newman and Natalie Zhu
From Method to Madness: The American Sound
July 20, 2023