Caelum is a barely visible constellation, set in the southern sky. Nicolas Louis de Lacaille discovered it back in the 1750s. The name literally means ‘the chisel’ in Latin. At one time, it was known as Caelum Scalptorium, or ‘the engraver’s chisel.’ If you’re keeping score, it is the eighth smallest constellation in our galaxy. Oh, and it’s also the name Christopher Rakas has chosen to title his four-track EP.
Each track included on this brief recording is short, with none clocking in over five minutes in length. This is a little odd, at least for a classical music release, because most classical compositions are fairly lengthy, and many times broken into multiple movements. However, this is a modern classical recording, and much like the modern music era, these songs are about the equivalent to the typical contemporary pop song’s length.
Rakas’ compositions are mainly performed by a string section, and the music is filled with a sense of melancholy. For example, “Caeli” is comprised of repeated, intersecting lines. It’s almost as though the notes are played out like a ‘call and response,’ even though that term is more commonly used in reference to gospel and soul music. When the string players on this track perform, it’s almost as though they’re having a conversation and speaking with each other.
Of the four selections, “Videtur” is, perhaps, the saddest sounding one of all. It has the mournful vibe of a funeral procession. The notes repeat over and over again, in a minor key, with the volume rising and subsiding gently and slowly. Unlike other familiar classical music, this piece doesn’t change keys and switch to differing melodic figures. Instead, it utilizes the power of repetition. There’s something special about repeating a melody because it appears to gain strength with each repetition. This is precisely what happens during this piece.
The composition “Noctem” has a title that refers to the night. This music conjures up images of a long, lonely night. It initializes feelings of staring up and an endless black sky. The night is deep and impenetrable and seemingly endless – like the depths of the sea. “Noctem” is also this project’s most varied piece. At 4:42 in length, it is the longest composition on Caelum. Whereas the other three selections get into a groove – if that term is even applicable, given that this is a classical recording – and basically stick to it from start to finish. “Noctem” starts slowly and quietly, and then builds from there. It also features sections where the music appears to stop and restart.
Caelum is a good example of how classical composing is still alive and well. Although it is wonderful to hear contemporary artists’ interpretations of classical compositions, as the act of interpretation is an art in and of its self, it’s a little sad to consider that there is not a lot of new music being added to this historic genre’s rich catalogue. You can’t say the same, for instance, about jazz music, which has always been – and still remains – a dynamic art form. One wonders just how commercially viable it is for classical artists to concentrate on composing new works. After all, performing arts centers make their money by promoting the performances of familiar classical works, not through introducing new music. That’s a shame, but it’s also a reality.
With that said, it is heartening to hear Rakas’ fresh music. He’s obviously heard and played a lot of familiar classical music in his lifetime, and now he’s taking what he’s learned and applying it to composing. The accumulated result is a short EP that creates a reflective, and more than likely, sad mood. This music is both beautiful and somber, and particularly well played.
Review By: Dan MacIntosh
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)