Sound Impression: Patina by Peter Gregson

It is no hyperbole to call Peter Gregson one of the most sought-after cellists in the world. He has as premiered works by renowned composers including Steve Reich, Gabriel Prokofiev, and Jóhan Jóhannsson and himself composed for films starring marquee actors like Kate Winslet and the late Alan Rickman as well as major TV productions like Netflix’s hit ‘Bridgeton’ and HBO’s ‘The New Pope’. Add to that having his music incorporated into major ballet and dance productions and numerous collaborations and guest appearances. When Gregson records an album of his own, one can be sure he will explore an interesting theme or new angle of the instrument he has mastered, and so it is with Patina released earlier this year on Deutsche Grammophon.

Here the objective is to bring the listener up close to the instrument to experience it as it is played rather than heard while at the same time exploring the concept of “the presence of absence” by emphasizing silence and counter-melody. Gregson achieved this by composing and following an iterative process in which main melodies were removed to allow other layers, textures, and details to “move up the hierarchy and gain protagonism”.

I wanted the cello to sound like it sounds under my ear when I’m playing, not how a cello sounds half way back in a concert hall. This music was produced to sound a particular way from where I’m sitting, and that’s the same position where I wanted the listener as well. This is where it’s happening…It’s a very processed and crafted record. The production is absolutely of equal importance as its composition.

It is perhaps like the alternating perspectives of the Rubin Vase, a drawing where the viewer might see a vase at the center or two opposing faces on either side. Regardless of which image they ‘see’ first, a change in perception of what is the empty space transforms the image. Gregson has rather inventively pulled a similar trick here on our ears by switching our focus from one musical image to another hiding in plain sight. Of course, for this to work, the harmonies, bass lines, and other textural elements must be sufficiently interesting on their own and that is very much the case. The richness of what is absent never seems truly missing, only observed from a different perspective. As Gregson himself puts it, “the blueprint of the absent melody can still be felt, even if it isn’t heard” and he has made it a listening experience that is as revealing as it is satisfyingly beautiful.

It’s very easy to fill up space, keep adding more and more until the bubble bursts, but to have confidence in the moments of silence gives us room to hear the music.

Patina is currently available on CD and vinyl LP as well as digital download and streaming. Additionally, the album has been made available in Dolby Atmos on Apple Music for high-quality spatial listening.

Links: Deutsche Grammophon | Peter Gregson website