When I was small, my grandparents had an old upright piano in the living room of their terraced house. I never learned how to play the piano ‘properly’, but I remember spending hours sat at that instrument, stomping on the extreme upper and lower notes, always with the sustain pedal held down, marvelling at the sounds it produced. The “solo” disc of Johan Lindvall’s double album “solo/ensemble” reminds me very much of being at that piano, though the composer’s 24 short, sparse preludes are much more eloquent and refined than anything I ever hashed out. Lindvall allows natural resonances and decays to infuse the music, developing each piece just long enough to unfurl the frame of an idea, but no longer.
At some point, he begins adding here and there a faint shuffling sound, like the precise, deliberate sliding of feet across a hard floor. At first this provides a welcome contrast in timbre and texture, but soon feels overused. Lindvall’s pianism has quite a traditional approach to metre and harmony, though this begins to be stretched a bit in his ‘three pieces for piano’, each one titled in honour of a lesbian artist from the Paris circles of the early twentieth century. Gentle and unassuming, but often anchored on a solid ground bass, these solo pieces have a way of capturing the senses by stealth, despite, or perhaps because of, their simplicity.
But it’s the “ensemble” disc of this release that really caught my ear, as the interactions between multiple instruments, each following their own simple line, produces a pleasing richness and intensity. The ensemble in question comprises violin, clarinet, percussion, trombone, voice, guitar, and piano, though not every performer contributes to every piece, all the more to maintain the music’s quietness. Lindvall’s work is completely of a piece with the Wandelweiser tradition of sparseness and simplicity, while swapping some of that group’s radicality for a more conventional approach to tonality and duration. In this way, “solo/ensemble” continues Edition Wandelweiser’s recent branching out into more diverse forms of quiet-inspired music.