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Moontide by Helmut Lipsky

Helmut Lipsky possesses a long resume describing his work as a professional composer and violinist, the result of having recorded numerous CD’s of various descriptions, composed works for television, performed in festivals and written scores for theater and movies. So wide-ranging is his talent that Lipsky has tackled creative projects of these sorts on several continents, starting in his Swiss homeland and continuing in New York when he studied with Itzhak Perlman and on to Montreal, where he currently resides. With an absorptive interest in all aesthetic forms, Lipsky has incorporated elements of literature, theater, film and visual art into his music as well, in a coming-full-circle example of the interrelationships of various art forms. With the release of Moontide, recorded in Switzerland in 1996, Lipsky has collaborated with some of his European associates to bring to life his vivid impressionistic images, mythological depictions or dramatic, even passionate, human encounters.

And so, the tango is an appropriate vehicle for Lipsky’s vision of larger-than-life emotional drama presented in "Moontide," which he describes thusly: "tenderness, fragility, longing, passion, anger, pain.... A melancholic slow dance with a perfume of tango and the pulse of desire and despair." Well, "Moontide" certainly does adopt the form of the tango in an 4/4 languor flavored by Tobias Morgenstern’s accordion and Daniel Spahni’s almost drum machine-like precision the exquisite anguish, of course, going over the top throughout the repetitive motive that suggests Lipsky’s past involvement with movie scores. A pattern starts to develop, and a suspicion starts to form, during the next track, "Rêverie," which Lipsky says describes "the first rays of sunlight" as they "illuminate the desert. A caravan is passing, camels are loaded.... Salome, Scheherazade." Etc. And once again, the arrangement performed without a doubt by top-caliber musicians attains cinematic vibrancy through accepted sonic resemblances to cute Middle Eastern images with devices like hand drumming and plucked strings over yet another repeated theme (although Kling does contribute an illuminating piano solo), that theme oscillatory rather than circular in its regularity.

With the performance of "Heavy Angels" ("the energy of rock united with fanfares of festive trumpets and choirs of heavenly voices. A marriage celebrated in Hell and consumed [sic] in Heaven"), it becomes apparent that the music of Moontide attempts to make accessible classical European sensibility through motivic simplification (i.e., repetition) and overarching depths of feeling. Daniel Spahni’s rat-a-tat-tatting drums drive the composition, not entirely memorable, under sustained tones that suggest daredevilry or stagecraft of sorts, as if the music were intended to whip up excitement during a Cirque du Soleil sequence.

And then there’s "Mad Cow Girl," which combines the overwrought but nonetheless vocally challenging yodeling of Canadian singer Karen Young with knee-slapping country music borrowings. Evoking Imogene Coca more than Beverly Sills, more in the spirit of Carl Stalling than Maria Von Trapp, the "Mad Cow Girl" is a jaw-dropping exercise that is more likely to evoke risibility than serious consideration of the intriguing possibilities of its cultural juxtaposition.

And so it goes throughout the rest of Moontide. There’s the electronically enhanced bass-clef sonority of "Somewhere Deep Inside," which "speaks of the soul and labours of those special people who descend every day into the depths of the earth," but which sounds more like a attention-must-be-paid dirge. There are the voices of "Voices," actually rustlings of the wind according to the lyrics, which come from either "benevolent spirits or the tempting seductions of deceptive sirens." I get it: They beckon. Or there is the Brigadoonish high-spiritedness of "Highland Tunin’" where "the local band is celebrating your return with a jig."

Moontide certainly is unlike any other CD you’ll hear this year.

And yet, it sounds oddly familiar.

Like the nondescript music of numerous stage and television shows heard throughout lifetimes.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Helmut Lipsky
  • CD Title: Moontide
  • Genre: Other
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Reissue Original Release: 1996
  • Record Label: Eclectra
  • Tracks: Moontide, Rêverie, Heavy Angels, Felina, Melodia, Mad Cow Girl, Isis and Osiris, Somewhere Deep Inside, It’s A Breeze, Gitango, Voices, Highland Tunin’, Jessica, Driving Home, La Valse Des Bateaux (The Waltz Of The Ships)
  • Musicians: Helmut Lipsky (violin), Tobias Morgenstern (accordion), Stefan Kling (piano, keyboards), Sylvain Gagnon (bass), Daniel Spahni (drums); Jessica Comeau, Karen Young, Michel Comeau (voices); Luc Boivin (percussion), Ron Di Lauro (trumpet), Denis L. Chartrand (accordion), Jean-Pierre Limoges (sound effects)
  • Rating: Two Stars
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