Though the title of Nadia Sirota's sophomore album, Baroque, might suggest that it's a collection of early classical works by the likes of Telemann, Vivaldi, and Purcell, the album is instead a collection of six new compositions by contemporary composers. If there's one thing that ties the title to baroque music, it's the intricate nature of the album's pieces, which find Sirota playing the role of soloist but also functioning as a multi-tracked mini-ensemble (seven violas in one piece and eleven in another). It's a contemporary project in another key sense, too, in that, her viola often appears within arrangements featuring synthesizers and electronic programming.
Produced by Sirota, Valgeir Sigurðsson, and Paul Evans, the album is jointly released by New Amsterdam Records, which issued her debut album First Things First in 2009, and Bedroom Community. In the spirit of that partnership, the composers featured on the album are associated with both labels: Judd Greenstein and Missy Mazzoli to New Amsterdam, for example, and Nico Muhly, Daníel Bjarnason, and Paul Corley to Bedroom Community.
A bravura, ten-minute performance that finds Sirota performing seven separate viola parts with impassioned zeal, Greenstein's “In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves” offers an ideal entry point to the album in enabling the Juilliard graduate and yMusic member to display her considerable technical gifts as well as showcase the affecting emotional quality she brings to her playing. A markedly different timbral character emerges in Shara Worden's “From The Invisible To The Visible” when Westminster Abbey assistant organist James McVinnie accompanies Sirota. A dream-like mood is generated, due both to the softly gleaming tones of the organ and the viola's supplicating expressions. In similar manner, Sirota's agile lines are heard against a backdrop of keyboard chords and patterns in Muhly's “Étude 3,” a five-minute setting whose lyrical character suggests some tangential connection to the classical-baroque style.
Urgency and tension permeate Missy Mazzoli's “Tooth and Nail” in the electronic rhythm patterns that patter insistently in the background, even if passages surface where the rhythms recede to let the viola's sinuous flow dominate. An overt electronic character infuses “Tristan Da Cunha” by Corley (whose recent album Disquiet was a 2012 standout) to such a degree that the piece assumes the character of an ethereal, minimalistic meditation over which Sirota layers rapid patterns so aggressive they verge on violent. Baroque is capped by Bjarnason's “Sleep Variations,” a fourteen-minute viola concerto that sees Sirota weaving eleven different viola lines into a wondrous display of viola technique and emotional expression. Piano and percussion appear also, but the piece is largely a dramatic Sirota showcase of wide-ranging moods and alternating solo and ensemble passages. Of all of the album's compositions, it's the one that would likely be the most natural pick for an in-concert classical performance.
Sirota's profile is sure to be raised by this exceptional release but also through her associations with not one but now two labels. Having recently appeared on Muhly's Drones and Sigurðsson's Architecture Of Loss, she has become a Bedroom Community fixture of sorts, which means we probably will be the lucky beneficiaries of more of Sirota's artistry in the future.