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Music Review: Giovanni Pessi; Susanna K. Wallumrod – If Grief Could Wait

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If grief could wait? What a thought. But no, even in our rigidly structured, time-clock punching life, that is simply not the way it is. From the cover art alone, the new ECM release If Grief Could Wait expresses something to me which is incredibly powerful.

The artists are harpist Giovanni Pessi and singer Susanna Wallumrod. The unsung heroes are composer Henry Purcell (1659 -1695), Jane Achtman (viola de gamba) and Marco Ambrosini (nyckelharpa). The songs of Purcell express a timeless sorrow, while the atmospheres of Acthman and Ambrosini add an amazing amount of depth.

The cover art is mentioned because it visualizes some of the most appropriate imagery for an album I have ever seen. It is simply a shot of waves crashing. But it expresses the emotions of this music amazingly well. The fact that the ocean was both the source of life as we know it, and the fact that it may one day overtake us all at some point, are effortlessly addressed. The most obvious metaphor is simply that those waves will continue to rise and fall no matter how much we think we “control“ things.

The sadness in Susanna Wallumrod’s voice is mannered yet undeniably effective. The choice of Purcell’s baroque compositions shows a degree of musical awareness far beyond what one might expect, though. And the fact that her and Pessi chose such relatively contemporary artists as Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen to add to this collection of Purcell’s 250-year old songs, and Wallumrod’s own “The Forester” and “Hangout,” simply adds to this collection’s mystique.

If Grief Could Wait is not an easily definable recording. It is an album of deep sorrow, without question. Although If Grief Could Wait in no way resembles Gregorian chant, there is an aspect to it which brings to mind such purity in both intent and expression.

I will close by speaking directly to Nick Drake fans. It is my sincere belief that had he lived, he would be incredibly proud to know that one of the greatest (and deepest) songs off of his finest album (Pink Moon) found a place in someone’s heart to be included next to the music of 17th century composer Henry Purcell.

If grief could wait is indeed quite a thought. It is obviously a part of life we simply cannot escape. This is an album I know I will return to again and again, for many reasons. The word “depth” may be almost silly to use in this context, yet it is the only one I can think of that actually conveys the feeling this record has had upon me.

If Grief Could Wait is sad, it is beautiful — and it is one which I strongly recommend the listener be ready for. I personally was shocked at just how deeply it affected me.


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About Greg Barbrick

  • Dome Nammali

    Lovely review. Thanks.