Rotterdam’s Hydra Ensemble is back with an inspired follow-up to the quartet’s debut Voltas. Featuring double bassist Gonçalo Almeida, cellists Nina Hitz and Lucija Gregov and Rutger Zuydervelt on electronics, Vistas is among the most refined new classical works of the year to date.
Put an asterisk beside that new classical reference. Zuydervelt’s contributions will push some lovers of the genre out of their collective comfort zone. The artist also known as Machinefabriek plays an outsized role, given that half the group is on the same instrument.
He’s hardly the first to add electronics to a chamber ensemble. But he does so with such understated imagination that he is a big part of what makes Hydra Ensemble stand apart.
That said, this remains a group of equals. Every contribution, throughout each of the album’s five pieces corresponds neatly with the whole. There’s not a thing out of place.
“Vista III,” for example opens with a gentle interplay between plucked bass and scraped cello. In time, Zuydervelt’s electronics add a complementary source of texture. The piece builds ever so gradually – in both intensity and volume – without ever overwhelming.
“Vista I” and “Vista IV” both showcase the impact of the ensemble’s pairing of two cellos beautifully. Hitz and Gregov deliver a stunning harmonic listening experience, here and elsewhere on the album. These are like advanced drone works, a must-listen if your exploration of that style has been limited to electronic compositions.
A point should be made about the album’s luxurious pacing. Nothing is rushed, and the performers avoid crowding one another throughout its 50 minutes. This is a recipe for success that other groups might take note of. By easing listeners through all of the beautiful complexity on display here, Hydra Ensemble makes genuinely challenging music a surprisingly easy listen.