Basil Athanasiadis: Soft Light
Basil Athanasiadis (born 1970) is a Greek composer who has studied in Athens, London and Tokyo. Many of his works are characterised by a strong visual identity and performances of his work have often been accompanied by dance or stage action. The collection of seven works on this release were composed between 2003 and 2017. Like most of his recent works, the compositions on this recording focus on the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi¹, which has also been the main subject of his doctoral and postdoctoral research since 2004. Despite their differences, all of the works present are characterised by their overall subdued nature, quietness, lack of thematic development and a common aesthetic direction relating to various elements of Japanese culture. You will not discover a moment of bombast in these performances.
The recording contains three vocal works and four instrumental pieces. The first two tracks feature a shō² which is a Japanese free reed musical instrument that was introduced from China during the Nara period and is believed to be a descendant of the Chinese sheng. The first two works To the Touch for violin and shō and Air Still for female voice and shō are based on a pair of haikus by Kobayashi Issa. Next comes the memorable For the Ice II, written for violin and soprano saxophone, played most expressively by Naomi Sato, who also plays the shō on the first two tracks. This is followed by the four sections of a piece for solo alto flute, Pale Views. The Cat in Love, for female voice, violin, piano, is next and then we get the longest work in the programme Dream of a Butterfly III a demonstration piece for piano which in the words of the composer is “to a large extend (sic) purposeless, artless and hence closer to the true spirit of wabi-sabi.” The performance closes with the title piece Soft Light for female voice, flute, piano which is sung wonderfully by Shie Shoji.
The pieces have been well put together and listening to the entire CD in one sitting works very well and induces an air of calm on even the most stressful day. My favourite tracks are For the Ice II, Dream of a Butterfly III and Soft Light but all the works are well worth hearing. Indeed this recording is one that I will return to frequently and I would urge readers to sample the album on one of the streaming services and, if like me, you enjoy it then buy with confidence. This deserves to be widely heard and not just by lovers of contemporary music. Wholeheartedly recommended!
¹ Essentially wabi-sabi is a world view centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.
² the shō consists of seventeen slender bamboo pipes, each of which is fitted in its base with a metal free reed.