Peter Knight,
The Gemini Cadenza
(self-released, 1998)

Peter Knight apparently didn't require much assistance with The Gemini Cadenza. The album was, the notes proudly tell us, "composed, played, recorded and produced by Peter Knight." Likewise, artwork and design is credited to Peter Knight. The album was published by Peter Knight Music. For information, contact -- you guessed it -- Peter Knight. Let me save you postage to England; you can find him at his website instead. (You can always learn more about Knight's activities with his well-known band of British folk-rockers, Steeleye Span.)

The stark-looking album (black ink sketches and minimal text on a white background) includes four tracks, ranging from 8 1/2 to 10 1/2 minutes in length. The violin, as the artistic scribblings might lead one to believe, is the star of the show.

The first track, "The Gemini Cadenza," is a sweeping example of precise, neoclassical violin playing. The faint strains of organ harmonies add to the flavor, but the metronome-like rhythm kerplunking in the background steals some of Knight's fluidity.

Next up is "There's always tomorrow," which retains the faint background organ and loses the metronome. The piano replaces the violin as the primary instrument, although the violin does make vital additions to the music. Knight, who is the sole performer credited on the album, built at least two layers of violin harmonies over and around the piano melody. While the strings never reach beyond their station, they dance among and soar above the primary sound of the keyboard.

Third is "The life and death of Mrs. Pearson," which begins with a sobbing violin ... the kind of sound every first-year violin student makes with his new instrument and every violin instructor reprimands those students for making. I've heard it used effectively by some violinists since Ms. Cummings made me stop grating my bow over the strings and sliding my finger up and down the chromatic scale in such an annoying fashion, but -- sorry, Peter -- this isn't one of those times.

The sliding, grating, plucking and excessive trilling of track number three smacks too much of a bored violinist putzing around between tunes. We've all done it, but unfortunately Knight decided to record and release it to the masses. The bells a little later are a nice touch, however, and occasionally the violin has settled down into a pleasant melody. Don't get too comfortable, though ... the grating bits will be back.

The album concludes with "Goodnight, sleep well." The metronome effect is back, producing a monotony I suppose is conducive to good lullabies. Once again, the piano takes the lead and the violin provides ornamentals. I have to question the wisdom of ending with a tune so sleep-inducing, however; it had the effect of sending me, upon its conclusion, lunging for a CD of lively Canadian fiddle tunes to shake off the effect.

Despite its drawbacks, The Gemini Cadenza is a fine album for anyone with a liking for the violin and modern classical stylings. It left me curious what Knight might accomplish in this style with a few more musicians behind him.

[ by Tom Knapp ]