It’s not hard to understand why celebrated violist Nadia Sirota chose Baroque for the title of her sophomore album, released in March, 2013 on New Amsterdam Records and on Bedroom Community in the UK/EU. The follow-up to Sirota’s 2009 debut First Things First (a New York Times record of the year), Baroque is as intricate and ornate as its name suggests, adorning Sirota’s singular interpretive voice with dynamic electronic processing at the revered production hands of Valgeir Sigurðsson and Paul Evans.
Built on works written expressly for her by some of the most widely respected composers of her generation–Daníel Bjarnason, Paul Corley, Judd Greenstein, Missy Mazzoli, Nico Muhly, and Shara Worden–Baroque shows Sirota fusing each composer’s unique voice with her own, then complemented by expert production to create a fully immersive experience that is captivating and original.
The pith of Baroque is unrestrained time and imagination in the studio. Recorded somewhat sporadically over the span of a year and half in Sigurðsson’s famed Greenhouse Studios in Iceland; Sirota, Sigurðsson, and Evans had no limits as they experimented with every detail–deconstructing and reconstructing tracks, trying alternate instruments, wirings, recording devices, and spaces. (Though by contrast, Nadia’s performances were recorded in minimal takes). The result is a 3D album that begs for a headphone listen, an absorbing escapade that reveals more of itself with every proverbial spin.
Baroque opens with Judd Greenstein’s “In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves” for seven violas, a response to the Golden Record shot into the solar system in 1977 by NASA and meant to share the sounds and images of humankind with alien life. The piece is a lush and affecting meditation on what it would mean to teach the emotion and agency of the Earth’s music to another life form, with Sirota performing the seven separate viola parts. Shara Worden’s velvety “From the Invisible to the Visible” follows, featuring recent Westminster Abbey assistant organist James McVinnie; then Missy Mazzoli’s “Tooth and Nail,” a hypnotic blend of electronic textures and deft performance. Nico Muhly’s contribution, "Étude 3," lays down mellow R&B pressed up against bursts of brisk viola, contrasted by Paul Corley’s fluid and ethereal “Tristan Da Cunha.” The album’s finale is Daníel Bjarnason’s stirring viola concerto “Sleep Variations” — a compilation of Sirota performing eleven different viola lines edited and layered into 14 minutes of sonic tossing and turning that is likely to be considered one of the greatest triumphs of his composing career.