“The title of Ian Hazeldine’s latest Antonymes opus obviously calls to mind two things in particular: Ingmar Bergman’s 1961 film Through a Glass Darkly, whose title is itself drawn from the Biblical passage “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13). No one, however, needs to obsess too much over the title and its associated meanings when the album’s fifty minutes of music already prove so captivating in their own right.
The aural evidence suggests that Hazeldine clearly spent a great deal of time and effort crafting the album, and it’s easy to picture him toiling on the material for weeks if not months on end at his Gladstone country, Wales residence; he also clearly dedicated much thought to the sequencing of the ten tracks, given its arc and how effectively it flows. Though there are individuating differences between the pieces, piano and strings are the core elements; further to that, the music’s mood is predominantly melancholy, even at times hymnal. A number of vocal and instrumental contributors help bring the album to life, specifically vocalists Joanna Swan, Martine Bijn, and Jan Van den Broeke, plus pianist Stefano Guzzetti, cellist James Banbury, violinist Christoph Berg (aka Field Rotation), flugelhorn player Claus Højensgård Andersen, and Richard Talbot, who’s credited with electronics on “Little Emblems of Eternity.” In addition, Guzzetti mixed all but one of the album’s tracks, and Rafael Anton Irisarri mastered the material.
However much electronic production techniques were involved in its production, (For Now We See) Through A Glass Dimly is more a modern classical chamber collection than electronic album. That the material is primarily classical in character is evident from the moment the luscious orchestral strings of Berg and Banbury (and Guzzetti’s piano and celeste) introduce the album on “The Lure of the Land,” in essence a scene-setting overture for the recording; an unabashedly emotional quality also emerges due to the track’s plaintive mood and the way the players’ strings swell to an elegant crescendo. Yet as lovely as it is, it’s bettered by “Elegy (II),” whose strings-heavy introduction (Berg again) is followed by a stunning vocal performance by Joanna Swan; on this album highlight, she sings with an unaffected, natural grace so beautiful it takes one’s breath away. Elsewhere, the brooding “Towards Tragedy and Dissolution,” a co-composition by Hazeldine and Banbury, is elevated by the latter’s lyrical cello playing and Berg’s violins, and speaking voices on “Sixteen Zero Six Fifteen” and “Little Emblems of Eternity” (the latter featuring text by Paul Morley) add variety to this largely instrumental project.
Though (For Now We See) Through A Glass Dimly, as mentioned, generally invites the modern classical designation, that doesn’t apply to every track. When strings are joined by a downtempo beat pattern in “Delicate Power,” an electronic dimension adds to the classical one, and in “Elegy (IV),” an ambient breath shadows the solo piano playing in a way that also suggests an ambient-electronic connection. But the biggest surprise in that regard is “Fatal Ambition,” not only for featuring Andersen’s flugelhorn as the lead voice but for nudging the stylistic tone away from classical and in the direction of something akin to romantic, late-night jazz. That said, as interesting as such a change-up is, it’s perhaps a little bit too much out of character with the rest of the album. Such a complaint is of the minor variety, however, and does little to mar the overall strong impression left by the album. For that matter, any recording that includes something as stirring as “Elegy (II)” rewards one’s time and attention all by itself.”