Review - Jan Vogler and The Knights Experience: Live from New York

On this latest release, Vogler abandons a typical classical orchestra and teams up with the cutting-edge New York ensemble The Knights. The CD's repertoire centers on the music of Russia's Dmitri Shostakovich – from his Cello Concerto No. 1 to the catchy waltzes he wrote for film scores and jazz suites – but it ends with a surprising take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun.” This eclectic and innovative recording has been garnering accolades in Germany since its recent release.

“…the way Jan Vogler plays the Hendrix-Cello is remarkable. This live recording gives the impression of sparkling freshness…” - Frankfurter Rundschau

Typically, with a lot of “live” albums there is a sense of space, a lack of punch that comes from studio recording. Initially, the first couple of tracks give the impression Jan Vogler and The Knights latest CD may suffer the same fate - not have the punch they could have achieved in the studio. Don’t be lulled into a sense of complacency, however. The opening tracks are an introduction, a prelude to the mastery of their performance – a chance to become accustomed to sound of the ensemble.

By the time they reach Shostakovich Cello Concerto No 1 in E flat major there is no deficiency. The intensity, intimacy and immediacy are evident in every note of the Allegretto. Moving into the Moderato of Cello Concerto, Jan Vogler not only sings, he weeps with lyrical beauty created with his cello. The New York Times admires Jan Vogler’s “lyrical intuition”. I was stunned by the splendor. The Knights ensemble was so integrated into the sense of the piece, when they take over the melody the transition is seamless. It is as if they are not an ensemble and soloist, but one soul singing.

When Jan begins the Cadenza (third movement of the concerto) he continues the lovely melodic sense of the piece. However, as the cadenza moves into the more anguished, angular section Jan begins to show why he chose to pair this piece with music by Jimi Hendrix. The cadenza doesn’t go into the extreme distortion we associate with Hendrix’ music, but it is a perfect prelude. There is a crunchy sound that prefaces what's to come. As the Cello Concerto closes with the Allegro con moto there is a return to the intensity of the first movement, amp’d up a couple of notches.

As amazing as so much of this album is, where the album doesn’t quite seem to work is during the Waltz from the film “Michurin”. While it is a lovely piece and played admirably, it comes right before Jimi Hendix “Machine Gun”. The polite applause for the waltz at the end of the track alludes to the audience’s similar impression.

Perhaps I should say I am not a Jimi Hendrix fan. Perhaps I should say I never really understood the loud, distorted sounds of the late 60’s and 70’s. No, I’m not against rock music. I am a huge fan of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Queen - somehow they struck a chord with me; I could hear the music through the electronics. Well, I couldn’t be more wrong. Jimi Hendrix is deserving of every accolade he’s received. He is a giant in the world of music, and this remake of his music proves he transcends the world of rock.

Why do I say this now? Jan Vogler and The Knights brought “Machine Gun” to life. They didn’t use electronics to achieve the sound and yet are so true to the original it actually shows the virtuosity of both the original and their performance. Numerous classical groups have attempted to duplicate the sound of psychedelic rock. Experience: Live from New York not only captures the force, magic and spirit of Hendrix’ music, it is a reincarnation of the virtuosity of Hendix’ skill. This is a live album that truly feels alive, with all the passion of a live performance and yet all the punch of a studio recording.

Created by brothers Eric and Colin Jacobsen, and conducted by Eric Jacobsen, the New York-based ensemble The Knights seeks to expand the idea of what an orchestra can be through creative programming and a unique atmosphere of camaraderie that treats the orchestra as an ensemble capable of creating the intimacy and immediacy of a much smaller group. In addition to their many and diverse activities in New York, the Knights opened the 2009 Dresden Music Festival in May.

RCA Red Seal, Sony Classical, deutsche harmonia mundi, Masterworks Broadway and Masterworks Jazz are labels of Sony Masterworks. For email updates and information regarding RCA Red Seal, Sony Classical, deutsche harmonia mundi, Masterworks Broadway and Masterworks Jazz artists, promotions, tours and repertoire, please visit www.sonymasterworks.com.

on Sony Classical June 2, 2009

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