“If Grief Could Wait” is an intimate album of very special character, the outcome of a collaboration between harpist Giovanna Pessi and singer Susanna K. Wallumrød. Given impetus also by the nyckelharpa of Marco Ambrosini and Jane Achtman’s viola da gamba, the project has Pessi’s arrangements of Henry Purcell songs at its core. It begins with “The Plaint” (from The Fairy Queen of 1692) and continues with “If Grief Has Any Pow’r to Kill”, and “O Solitude” (from The Theatre of Musick), as well as “Music for a While” (from Oedipus) and “An Evening Hymn” (from Harmonia Sacra).
But Purcell’s music has never been heard quite like this. Threaded between his songs and instrumental pieces here are works of singer-songwriters Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake, as well as songs by Susanna K. Wallumrød herself. “If Grief Could Wait” is neither a project that adheres rigorously to ideals of historical performance practice, nor one that strives self-consciously to “cross over”.
Pessi and Wallumrød offer music that they love, and all of it is played with commitment by the participating musicians. Purcell and Cohen are respected on their own terms, and Susanna’s pure voice and Giovanna’s subtle and evocative arrangements bring continuity to the repertoire. And, as Pessi points out, Cohen and Drake songs from the last century are also, from a contemporary perspective, ‘old music’.
Recorded in three days in Lugano last November, this fresh-sounding album has some years of history behind it. Giovanna Pessi previously recorded for ECM with the Rolf Lislevand Ensemble, and also with the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble, the hard-to-categorize group led by a ‘jazz’ pianist but inspired by contemporary composition and folk music. It was while rehearsing in Oslo with Christian that Pessi first met the pianist’s younger sister, Susanna K. Wallumrød, then just beginning to shape her own musical career.