Nicholas Cords - Recursions / by Doyle Armbrust

The authentic voice of the viola lies somewhere between melancholy and introspection, hued in lustrous ochres and burnished golds. Though the instrument is fluent in countless dialects, it’s this dark patina that violist Nicholas Cords is drawn to on his elegant solo disc, Recursions. With no less than seven composers featured (including himself), the album covers a broad expanse of the instrument’s repertoire while unapologetically sequestering itself to a warm, embracing sound world.

Of particular note are Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s Passacaglia, which opens the album, and Cords’s own set of miniatures, Five Migrations. The violist executes Biber’s variations with a fleetness and poise, while a repeating bass line exemplifies the titular theme of this set. Embracing white noise, Cords seeks out the most gossamer corners of the viola, an approach he employs to similar effect for Stravinsky’s Élégie. On his compositional debut, the Brooklyn Rider cofounder draws on his new-music chops to create one- and two-minute-long, multi-tracked evocations of hurdy-gurdies, flutes and viola choir. These tonal, post-classical vignettes stretch the process of repetition beyond mere musical notation, inducing nostalgia at both the micro and macro levels.

Aside from some wayward pitch issues in the chordal writing, even the most gnarled passages of Paul Hindemith’s Sonata Op. 11, No. 5, never lure Cords away from the opulent tone he establishes, and returns to, throughout this impressive debut.

- Doyle Armbrust

Originally published in Time Out Chicago on April 11th, 2013