We mainly think of cellos as being part of the engine room of an orchestra, driving along under the surface, essential, sweeping, often striking but mainly sitting back out of the limelight happy to be a team player whilst the likes of the violin or piano bask in the limelight. The sort of instrument which you might only notice by its absence.
“Sobeit”, a piece scored for six cellos goes some way to reminding us what a much-overlooked instrument this is. The piece also displays its versatility, not to mention its virtuosity, happy to jump genres from classical to more rootsy concerns, from symphonic majesty to cinematic ambience and from soothing sweeps to dramatic highs. This is music that undertakes a real and dynamic sonic journey, drawing the listener with it as they apply their thoughts and imagination to the scenes and scenarios that the music conjures before their ears.
But this is not the first time that Jeff McAuley has dabbled in such cross-genre, musical cross-pollination. Last year saw the release of the sumptuous and sizable Fiddle Down, an album that often employed anything up to ten cellos to create instrumental narratives and musical statements on all manner of subjects.
“Forlorn” is a circling and hypnotic piece filled with tension and beguiling hypnotism, “Eleven” takes that many cellos on a journey through space, warping sound and confounding expectations and “Death Of The Sirens” is a tone poem dedicated to ancient times. As an album, it runs the gamut from the fun and funky to the severe and serious and on to the serene and sensual.
What Jeff McAuley does here is truly astonishing, not only demonstrating the full range of the instrument, from brooding bass lows to heightened high crescendoes but crossing the boundaries of genres, sounds and styles without even breaking stride. Music should be exploratory, it should evolve, it should break new ground, not to mention new sound barriers. Both “Sobeit” and “Fiddle Down” are the perfect examples of such attitudes being alive and well in the modern age.