Part biographical, perhaps even part autobiographical and all adventure, Baronesa by the ineffable chanteuse Cristina Morrison is an amorous masterpiece. Ms. Morrison’s dark and smoky voice is so perfect for this kind of musical setting. Stories of seduction, of mesmerising beauty and of strange and beautiful musical topographies just seem to fall into place with the utterly irresistible voice that is led by – and sometimes plays off – the tantalising lines that unfold in the pianism of Misha Piatigorsky. The musicianship of both is characterised by its directness, the sonic purity of its gestures.
This Ecuadorian-American mezzo-soprano brings characteristically classy musicianship and intelligence to the task at hand. The voice is, at once sexy and sinewy, a little pushed in the extremes, but all power and glory in the middle register. Simple beauty, concentration and integrity inform these performances, often compelling, especially in the powerfully numb and affecting account of the Baroness Eloise Von Wagner de Bosquet who bewitched Floreana in the Galapagos, to which she retired from Europe in the late 1920s. Cristina Morrison and Misha Piatigorsky are a natural pairing, both offering musical meditations on fantasy and reality.
Heard on disc for the first time, their music is typical of the composers’ most recent work – a distillation and crystallisation of a style that has become ever cleaner and extraordinarily refined. Setting the stories in Latin America of the early 20th Century, the music is contemporaneous enough to be quite timeless. It finds a harmonic astringency to balance its yielding, unbending instinct to melody. Chant meets human cries, ecstatic choruses break through scuttling chromatics in a performance whose precision and restraint only heighten its intensity.
Christina Morrison shapes every vocalastic phrase with the greatest care. She paints aurally on a dreamscape in vocal brushes that arc and undulates as if mimicking the waves of the ocean. She is at once enigmatic and accessible and her lyricism is of the highest order reaching its proverbial climax on “Spanish Dreamland Inquisition” and then in a stratospheric second wind, piercing the glacial ceiling of the imaginary sky. Ms. Morrison’s interpretations of the stories are emotionally spacious and full of lovely moments. The upper voices undulate gently with some gracious portamentos, while by contrast, almost shouting the fervent, ecstatic ‘alleluias’ in “Princesa Baronesa”.
This is an exultant recording often reaching its exaggerated elocution when the full ensemble enters. At times like this the full extent of the musical beauty is realised. It is rare indeed to hear a vocal recital so completely embraced by all of the instruments in the ensemble. This is a most sumptuous feeling not only because of the exquisite nature of Cristina Morrison’s voice but also because of the pianism of Misha Piatigorsky and his arrangements, enhancements that go towards making this a truly desirable disc.
Track List: Corcovado; The Sky in in Your Eyes; Vocalise for my Mother; Cry Me a River; Ophelia’s Madness; La del Estribo; Mi Amargo Placer; Nuestro Juramento; Spanish Dreamland Inquisition; Princesa Baronesa; Light or Dark.
Personnel: Cristina Morrison: vocals; Misha Piatigorsky: piano, keyboards and percussion and chorus; Conor Rayne: drums (1, 2, 4 & 10), cajón (9); Willard Dyson: drums (5, 6 & 7); Ari Hoenig: drums (3 & 8); Rudy Royston: drums (11); Danton Boller: bass (3, 4, 8, 9 &11); Edward Perez: bass (5, 6 & 7); Sergio Brandão: bass (1, 2 & 10); Ron Affif: guitar (1, 2 & 10); Mark Hermann: guitar (11); Joel Frahm: tenor and soprano saxophones; Tatum Greenblatt: trumpet and chorus; Magnus Lindgren: flute; Mauricio Herrera: percussion and chorus; Victor Prieto: accordion; Frederika Krier: violin; Anatalaya Piatigorsky: chorus.
Release date: May 2015
Running time: 1:04:45
Buy music on: amazon