Joachim Kühn & Mateusz Smoczynski

Speaking Sound

Musical chemistry sometimes can be hard to come by. But even if it’s not completely there, it can be glossed over a bit in a group setting. As an instrumental duo, pianist Joachim Kühn and violinist Mateusz Smoczynski are left exposed. These nine pieces—the choicest selections from a marathon four-hour recording session—are a showcase for playing that is impassioned without every becoming overblown, and relaxed without ever falling into torpor.

Wisely, Kühn and Smoczynski entered into this project with some guidelines, as well as some material to work with. They wrote the bulk of the tunes on Speaking Sound, but make great use of some extant songs: “I’m Better Off Without You,” written by Rabih Abou-Khalil, feels operatic in its emotion, and “No. 40,” a take on an Armenian melody composed by Georges I. Gurdjieff, carries the sweet ache of nostalgia through Smoczynski’s gently straining performance.

The originals feel like they were constructed from improvisation, using their titles as guides. On “Love And Peace,” for example, Kühn teases out a small flurry of notes that his musical partner latches on to and follows. They gallop together before tumbling into a beautiful, giddy discordance. And the closing track “Paganini,” by far the most upbeat moment on the album, plays like a mashup of the titular composer’s work, as fragments of violin gleefully halt and jump around Kühn’s keyboard flashes.

If this is just scratching the surface of the work that these two musicians recorded during a long afternoon last April, listeners only can hope that they dig deeper into these sessions for another release.