There is, in the history of “classical” music a — call it a “genre” — of what is known as “program music” going all the way back to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (at least), and including works by such luminaries as Richard Strauss (who can forget Also Sprach Zarathustra?), Hector Berlioz, and even Beethoven (Symphony No. 6, the “Pasorale”, with a really spectacular summer storm). It was with that in mind that I approached a new album by Down the Track, Landscapes.
Down the Track, based in Belgium, is composed of Pieter Hulst (cello), Wouter de Belder (viola, violin), and Jacques Motmans (piano). They describe Landscapes as “music for a non-existing film”, which, on listening, strikes me as particularly apt.
The music itself is low-key (usually), peaceful, and highly visual. The opening track, “Highlands”, begins with a spare passage on the piano, quiet, measured, and yet somehow evoking the drama of a mountain landscape as it is joined by the cello and violin leading to an almost melancholy passage on the strings. It leads almost imperceptibly to “An Irish Wedding,” which, while lively, is not as boisterous as one might expect.
As we journey farther along, “As Far As I Can See” begins with another low-key passage for piano which soon picks up to a lilting melody that features a haunting passage by the cello, a melody that recurs throughout the piece.
This is followed by “Eyes Full of Sea”, which opens with an almost thunderous piano solo (well, relatively speaking), which is soon joined by cello and violin and develops a strong momentum. The piece really does evoke the sea on a day when it is not particularly placid — the music becomes very complex, shifting back and forth between soft and strong, driven by the rapid figures on the piano, and then fading into a quiet finish.
“Epilogue” once again begins with a very quiet, measured passage, this time for cello and piano, and soon picks up into a lilting tune, once again with that subtle momentum that carries it, and the listener, right along.
This is barely scratching the surface. I find myself once again faced with trying to describe the indescribable. All music is, I think, more or less visual; Landscapes falls into the “more” category; one can easily understand its characterization as a score for a non-existent film: the film is in our heads as we listen. To put it quite simply, this is beautiful music, easy to listen to and with enough surprises to keep you on your toes.
(High Hat Records, 2019; available as a digital download on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon)