Best of 2020: Michi Wiancko

(Over the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing some of my favorite recordings of 2020. -CC)

Michi Wiancko

Planetary Candidate

New Amsterdam

Violinist-composer Michi Wianko’s recording Planetary Candidate presents a selection of solo violin works by Wianko and several of her composer contemporaries. They are “solo” in the sense of having a single performer, but Wiancko’s voice, overdubs of her playing, and electronics are often added to season the pieces. The title work is a case in point, with pizzicato and bowed sections overlapped. Midway through, Thich Nhat Han’s breathing mantra is intoned with vocoder style sonic manipulation. Lest one think that the music is merely meditative, there is a considerably ecstatic ambience that propels it forward. 

Jolie Sphinx by Christopher Adler is a study in perpetual motion, beginning modally and gradually adding chromaticism, the range expanding to encompass the instrument’s altissimo register. Paula Matthusen contributes two pieces for violin and electronics. In the first, Songs of Fuel and Insomnia, violin glissandos and tremolos are combined with electronic drones and percussive sounds. Distortion morphs the violin in a solo reminiscent of electric guitar that ends the piece with a flourish. Matthusen’s second piece, Lullaby for Dead Horse Bay, is gentler, with a slowly undulating solo haloed by sine waves. 

Skyline by Mark Dancigers is built primarily of upward arpeggiated chords with bright, neotonal harmonies in limpid phrases. A central section offsets this with descending scalar filigrees. When the arpeggios return, they are double time, adding a dash of urgency that builds to a quick cadenza. Jessie Montgomery’s Rhapsody No. 2 begins where Dancigers left off, with attractive upper register flourishes, followed by scalar passages throughout the instrument’s compass, a slow section consisting of harmonics and double-stops, and a brief return to the initial section’s virtuosic passagework. 

Two pieces by William Brittelle round out Planetary Candidate, both featuring electronic contributions from the composer. So Long Art Decade combines amplification and  echo-laden effects with analog synth sounds, including some particularly attractive bell-like timbres. Wiancko makes the most of the piece’s effulgent glissandos; at times the instrument inhabits rock solo terrain. A tender passage of double-stops provides an enigmatic coda. Disintegration (for Michi) uses similar effects on the violin and revels in loops in counterpoint. Brittelle once again punctuates the proceedings with synth insertions. The buildup to a swinging moto perpetuo is ephemeral, cut off by a slow section of string chords and a winsome major key tune, which closes the piece and the album in a gradual fade out. Imaginative selections immaculately played throughout, Planetary Candidate is one of my favorite releases of 2020.