Greek pianist and composer Tania Giannouli expresses herself in a variety of acoustic idioms, including improvisation and soundtrack. By listening to parts of the preceding Transcendence – published in 2015 by the same label – it’s only natural to think about her work as informed by an “evolved neoclassical” aura: a small ensemble evoking a restrained poignancy, the leader’s openness mostly tending to crystalline melancholies sometimes reminiscent of Bernardo Sassetti’s quietest atmospheres.
However, Rewa is another type of artistic statement. It’s a meeting of cultural issues first and foremost – Rob Thorne is an accomplished player of ngā taonga pūoro, instruments of Māori descent – slightly modified by Rattle’s boss and album producer Steve Garden, who treated the duo’s raw materials in the studio to transfigure their original shapes and sequences.
Following a couple of tries we were persuaded that this is not one of the many New Ageish “gathering of holy spirits” destined to be forgotten in a millisecond. In these tracks – be it the single minute of “Timeless”, or the fifteen-plus of the endmost “Te Tangi A Mutu” – we experienced rather profound music making the most of a resonant vastness, frequently characterized by the rarefaction of pitches (and also noises; Giannouli does prepare her piano, on occasion). Subliminal under-surface movements defeat the dangerous tendency to excessive conformity typical of these kinds of setting, whereas the reverberating cross-pollination of Thorne’s glissando calls and Giannouli’s meditative touches could cause weaker focuses to hover around varying states of unconsciousness.
In a way, the virtues of Rewa (and Giannouli’s compositional approach at large) lie in the capacity of turning a stone-hearted reviewer back into his much younger self taken by something indescribable like, say, the nocturnal scents of a summer sea. You just sit down, enjoy the mix of far-flung echoes and stillness, and leave the criticism to someone else.