Music Reviews

Artist: Crestfallen (@)
Title: Chamber Works
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Crestfallen is the project name of Alexander Zafiropoulos, from Athens, Greece, and 'Chamber Works' is a song cycle for intimate salons and small audiences. As the artist describes it, "The music makes use of a wide variety of classical and acoustic instruments, demure baritone vocals and a powerful mixed vocal ensemble; all skillfully assigned to a certain role, for the purpose of dramatizing the written words. The poetry tells of the artist's self-awareness and his sense of duty, in the context of tormenting memories of a fearful and bitter boyhood." It took eight years to create this work, to get it right, and every bit of it shows in this recording.

'Chamber Works' is neoclassical at its most elegant. Well-steeped in 19th century tradition and melodic form, yet with a modern sensibility. It is gothic in tone and temperament being bittersweet and somewhat melacholoy, but not in the vein of goth music as you know it. It's the kind of music that Edgar Allan Poe would have appreciated. The orchestration is splendid, utilizing a variety of instruments - strings, woodwinds, horns, bells, xylophone, chimes and also plucked string instruments, harpsichord, organ, vocal chorale, musical box, drumkit, and other things. It is all done so delicately, especially the vocals which at times remind me of Kerry Minnear's vocal contributions to the band, Gentle Giant, at others, Scott Walker and Nick Cave. There are passages when Alexander's voice is unaccompanied by instrumentation, and it works magnificently, attesting to his prowess in that department.

You really need a libretto as the poetry (lyrics) are essential to appreciate this work in the fullest. (Fortunately you can find them in the Archives of the Spleen and Doom Library on Crestfallen's website.) 'Chamber Works' is often light yet powerful, and never lags or comes off as stilted. Most chamber works by modern composers often seem angular and episodic; compositions by Lukas Foss and Arnold Schoenberg come to mind. This bears no relation to that at all. It is likely closer to Peter Warlock's 'The Curlew,' yet far more ambitious. And the music is multifacted too, not strictly classical by any means. For example, here is a segment at the end of "Narrations of a Marooned Pirate" that recalls Jacques Brel. Although influences abound, there is no parallel for 'Chamber Works' that I can think of. I don't know how much of the music was actually played by Alexander, but it is done to perfection, and that's what's important. If this was ever to be performed live (and it would be neither inexpensive nor easy to do) it would be a 'must see'.

'Chamber Works' is available on two 180g vinyl Lps (with CD) in gatefold cover with printed inner sleeves and two art-prints, limited to 500 copies for 28 euros. If you can't do vinyl (and what a shame that would be), it also comes on CD with handmade packaging adorned with dried leaves and flowers, typescript sheet, two photographs stamped and numbered by hand and sealed in wax, limited to 70 copies for 12 euros. For most, it is only available through Crestfallen's website at present, but hopefuily, more outlets may appear in the future. I can't recommend this work highly enough. It is unlikely to ever appeal to the masses at large, but the composition, arrangement, originality and execution of Crestfallen's 'Chamber Works' sets it apart from the vast majority of music being released these days.

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