Noises off

I will forever resent the management office of my apartment complex for rerouting the main vent of my central air-condition system to my bedroom.

All of my music listening and review writing happens in my bedroom, and the white noise of the a/c — especially during summer — interferes with my listening.

And for Kronos Quartet’s Mugam Sayagi: Music of Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, the problem is compounded.

The dynamic range of this album is wide, and when Ali-Zadeh marks a soft tempo marking, it’s usually ppppppp — maybe I’m exaggerating, but suffice to say, it’s so soft, it hugs the noise floor of the recording itself.

I tried listening to this album in my office with headphones on and the volume turned up, but it wasn’t enough to drown out neighboring cubes.

It’s either a sad commentary on how much noise pollution exists in the world, or a terrible indication of the quality of this recording. In reality, it’s probably both.

And it’s a shame.

The pieces on Mugam Sayagi deserve as few distractions as possible. Ali-Zadeh first worked with the Kronos Quartet in 1993, when the quartet commissioned the title track of this album. Kronos recorded the piece for its 1994 album, Night Prayers.

Mugam Sayagi, the piece, is a thrilling work, full of longing, passion and intensity. Even without the theatrics Kronos adds in live performance — the full ensemble doesn’t play together on stage till half way through the piece — Mugam Sayagi never fails to impress.

This new recording, however, does — it lacks the same fire as the earlier version.

The remaining pieces on the album unfold more organically and don’t have the same kind of rhythmic drive as the denser parts of Mugam Sayagi.

Oasis calls to mind other pieces in Kronos’ reperoire, namely Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera and George Crumb’s Black Angels. Unlike those pieces, Ali-Zadeh uses the sound of dripping water and voices as flourishes, not as foreground.

The two-movement Apsheron Quintet for piano and string quartet features the composer herself on piano. Ali-Zadeh creates some nice percussive effects by striking wires on the piano sound board directly, emulating the instruments of her native home Azerbaijan.

Music for Piano achieves a similar effect when Ali-Zadeh prepares the piano by putting a necklace in the middle range of the sound board. When she runs through that portion of that piano with the sustain pedal down, it creates a haunting buzz.

But for all of Ali-Zadeh’s skill, it’s the recording itself that interferes with her pieces. Her music demands attention, but only the meticulous design of a concert hall can provide that environment.

As of this writing, the temperatures around my home are in the triple-digits, and I’m not that keen on shutting off the a/c to hear this album properly. But would have it killed producer Judith Sherman and first violinist David Harrington to master this disc with a bit more amplitude?