Gity Razaz Releases Evocative and Profound Debut Album, The Strange Highway

Out August 5, 2022 on BIS Records, The Strange Highway is an album of works whose haunting, ethereal landscapes are not static: this body of sonic spaces is restless, ever shifting and re-forming. In track after track of stark beauty, composer Gity Razaz showcases her impressive command of string instrument writing and takes us on a journey into cavernous spaces filled with unearthly sonorities and evocative, immersive story-telling.

Commissioned by Richard Aaron for the 3rd Amsterdam Cello Biennale, the title track for cello octet is a deliciously rich surround-sound cello fest. This is ten minutes of high-octane music, with power and gravitas en masse; a driven, focused traversing of texture and emotion. The All-American Cello Band (Julie Albers, Jake Braun, Denise Djokic, Paul Dwyer, Ken Olsen, David Requiro, Sæunn Thorsteinsdottir, and Sarina Zhang) fully delivers here, meeting every demand of the music with expertise and devotion.

Gity Razaz--Photo by Ronald Andrew Schvarztman

Gity Razaz–Photo by Ronald Andrew Schvarztman

Duo for violin and piano, expertly performed by violinist Francesca dePasquale and pianist Scott Cuellar, is a brilliant set of contrasting movements. The first movement’s beginning is painted in solemn, dark, languid tones. Slowly arching melodies ache their way into a riotous middle section; the movement ends in a hushed translucence. The second movement boasts sharp, cutting material in both instruments. Virtuosic runs and dramatic leaps between extremities of range give this movement an incendiary quality. Dry, stubborn staccati and pizzicati fill this half of the work a sense of obstreperous mischief; a wealth of intelligent exuberance laughing in the face of something more sinister.

Legend of Sigh for cello and electronics is a must-play for cellists! Written about the Azerbaijani folk tale of Sigh, a magical spirit who is summoned whenever someone lets out a sigh of frustration or sadness, Razaz’s work traces a widow’s perpetual heartbreak through many lifetimes as this spirit attempts to answer her wishes and renovate her life for the better. The cello melodies yearn with exquisite anguish, and the electronics weave a dream-logic tapestry of sounds both familiar and foreign. Performed on this recording by the commissioner, cellist Inbal Segev, Razaz again transports her audiences with her to far-flung, darkly sparkling places of emotion and meaning.

Spellbound entrances from the very beginning: written for solo viola, the work begins with a series of sul ponticello harmonics that sound less like a viola and more like galaxy unfolding. Razaz writes in the program note that Persian instruments (the Ney and Kamanche) inspired her focus on a morose, mourning mood and overtone-achieving bowing effects in this piece. Commissioned by Maggie Snyder in celebration of the 100th anniversary of women’s voting rights and played here beautifully by Katharina Kang Litton, Spellbound descends into pocket after pocket of harmonic and sul ponticello spaces, with trills and quiet overtones as the gems we find at the bottom.

Gity Razaz--Photo by Ronald Andrew Schvarztman

Gity Razaz–Photo by Ronald Andrew Schvarztman

Metamorphosis of Narcissus for chamber orchestra and fixed electronics, performed with exacting finesse by the Metropolis Ensemble conducted by Andrew Cyr, is a kaleidoscope of uncertain, dark terrain rendered effervescent thanks to shimmery percussion and haunting mini-soliloquies in the bassoon and clarinet. Instruments pass myriad textures and fragments to each other, each voice reacting and interacting with the others as kinetic energies combine, fall apart, and re-merge, gradually amassing into crashing waves of sound and color. There is an oasis to be found in the middle of this piece; an eerie, lovely pond of long-held tones, horn solos, and glistening filigree.

Gity Razaz is a creator of exciting, profound music. There are no weak spots on her debut album–only inspiring discoveries; a strange and magnificent highway we should all wander along for a while.


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