june 2012

joel freidricksen
Joel Frederiksen:' I was deeply affected by Nick Drake's music from the moment I first heard it, in 1982.'(Photo: Thomas Zwillinger)

The Haunting

Joel Frederiksen and Ensemble Phoenix Munich go for the heart of Nick Drake's classic Pink Moon. Reimagining its dark, delicate, deeply introspective folk-flavored songs on Baroque instruments and contrasting them with works by Elizabethan composers, Frederiksen fashions a moment both timeless and mesmerizing.

Joel Frederiksen and Ensemble Phoenix Munich
Harmonia Mundi

Nick Drake, who would have been 64 years old on June 19 of this month, did not live to see his music properly recognized and honored. Though he did not make it to his 27th birthday, Drake’s music has lived on, continually rediscovered by succeeding generations and revived in various ways. The latest, and by most estimations the finest, tribute to Nick Drake’s art comes by way of the classical lute player/bass singer Joel Frederiksen and his Ensemble Phoenix Munich. On Requiem for a Pink Moon, Frederiksen has taken the songs from the album most critics agree represents the apex of Drake’s outpourings in his lifetime and transposed them on Baroque instruments; alongside the Drake songs are works by Elizabethan composers John Dowland, Michael Cavendish, and Thomas Campion. The result is one of music’s main events of 2012. The critics weigh in below.

'a perfect confluence of concept, repertoire and performance'

Every once in awhile there's a perfect confluence of concept, repertoire and performance in the recording studio, and a kind of miracle occurs. Joel Frederiksen and his Ensemble Phoenix Munich have given us just such a miracle with Requiem for a Pink Moon. This unusual album presents the songs of the '70s era English folk-rocker Nick Drake, accompanied on baroque instruments and juxtaposed with Elizabethan music. The concept works brilliantly and the music will haunt you.

I hadn't heard Nick Drake's music. His name was vaguely familiar, but my knowledge of melancholy English folk-rockers really didn't extend much beyond Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny. Drake died ridiculously young (he committed suicide at age 26) and his legacy is based on the three albums he left behind; Pink Moon was arguably his best. Frederiksen has been a longtime fan of Drake, and his liner notes touchingly chart the course of his passion for this music. Frederiksen has arranged the music and crafted the program with loving care, as well, and sings most of the songs,

From the DVD Joel Frederiksen Live, Frederiksen (bass and archlute) is joined by mezzo-soprano Lucie Spicková on Henry Purcell's (1659-95) For love ev'ry creature is born.

Frederiksen's bottomless bass voice and the rich timbres of bass lute, archlute, theorbo, viola da gamba and drum are ideal for the melancholy mood that runs through these songs. The program is a Requiem for Drake, with portions of the Mass for the Dead interspersed. Coming from lesser talents this would be terribly affected, but Frederiksen and company offer the Requiem interpolations as deeply moving plot points in an album-length tale. The performances avoid all of the "pop meets early music" clichés, and the music flows logically and beautifully. Drake's beautiful "Place to be" sits comfortably between the verses of John Dowland's "His golden locks," and an instrumental sequence of Dowland's "Rest awhile" and Drake's "Rider on the Wheel" flows seamlessly into Frederiksen's stunning arrangement of Dowland's "Time stands still."

Requiem for a Pink Moon is much more than clever arrangements of Drake in an Elizabethan wrapper. The performances are superb. Frederiksen's voice is warm and wonderfully expressive, and he brings a world of meaning to every phrase. Tenor Timothy Leigh Evans makes some marvelous contributions too, sounding a bit like James Taylor on Drake's "Which Will," and sings a lovely version of Thomas Campion's "Never weather-beaten sail." The instrumental contributions are polished and, when accompanying voices, blend perfectly.

In May of 2011 I named Frederiksen's Rose of Sharon an early frontrunner for album of the year. Flash forward to May 2012 and Requiem for a Pink Moon has me feeling the same way. I don't think there's been a better album this year that communicates the power of a good song well sung. It certainly hooked me, because I now own a copy of Nick Drake's Pink Moon. --May 21, 2012 by Craig Zeichner

Audio clip: Joel Frederiksen and Ensemble Phoenix Munich perform Nick Drake's 'Pink Moon'


'One of the most successful experiments of its type'

Ever since critics began to place "She's Leaving Home" and some of the other more elaborate Beatles songs within the classical tradition of British music, performers have sought ways of exploring connections between contemporary and classical song. The idea seems plausible, yet the execution is devilishly difficult, for simple juxtaposition of rock and Renaissance songs emphasizes their differences, not their similarities. One way around the problem is the insertion of some third element, such as the spy plotline Sting added to his recording of songs by John Dowland. This recording by American-German bass Joel Frederiksen (he actually has a slight German accent here, but not a distracting one) takes a related tack: recording songs by British folk-rocker Nick Drake and putting them together with works by Dowland, Michael Cavendish, and Thomas Campion, he adds arrangements of Requiem chants that, although there are just a few, knit the program together in general mood. The arrangements also help: instead of simply turning Drake into a Renaissance lute song composer, Frederiksen crafts arrangements for viola da gamba, lute, and drum that preserve their original rhythms (although Drake himself often dispensed with the drums). Drake's songs work better for this kind of enterprise than most others of his time (he died a probable suicide in 1974): their prevailing melancholia is of a piece with Dowland's, and the harmonic-modal system of Drake's music, little touched by blues, is close enough to the Renaissance lute song that you can, when you add in Frederiksen's lovely singing and artful arrangements for Ensemble Phoenix Munich, just about forget which composer you're listening to. The engineering from Harmonia Mundi is more than just clear; it helps smooth over the lines that Frederiksen is trying to erase. This offbeat album is one of the most successful experiments of its type. --May 23, 2012 by James Manheim, Rovi
Reviews from  Ariama.com


Nick Drake, ‘Time Has Told Me’

david garlandDriving with Nick…and Joel
By David Garland

During the last few days, as I drive hills and dales of the Hudson Valley viewing the dappled sunlight and burgeoning green, I've been listening to the album Requiem for a Pink Moon, by Ensemble Phoenix Munich. The group is led by American-born lutenist and vocalist Joel Frederiksen. They've established themselves as a great early music group, but Requiem for a Pink Moon is something different. It intermixes songs by 16th-century masters such as John Dowland and Thomas Campion, with songs by Nick Drake, the 20th Century British songwriter who died in 1975 at age 26.

Drake's music wasn't well appreciated during his brief life, but in the last few decades his mysterious, beautiful songs have been more widely heard and have been increasingly influential. Frederiksen and his ensemble have created an almost seamless album in which Dowland and Drake illuminate one another, and the sonorities of lutes, theorbos, and viola da gamba unite with the lush low register of Frederiksen's voice and the nimble tenor voice of Timothy Leigh Evans, to weave a quiet, multi-colored sonic tapestry. I turn these quiet sounds up loud in the car, immersed in the delicacy of thoughtful, ageless songs.

David Garland of WQXR-FM, New York City's classical music station, contributing to the station's online feature "WQXR Hosts Pick Music for a Road Trip." Noting that "AAA expects a 1.2 percent hike in the number of Americans taking a road trip this summer," the station's hosts commented on their favorite driving music.


nick drake
Nick Drake (June 19, 1948-November 25, 1974)

Joel Frederiksen on Nick Drake

"I was deeply affected by Nick Drake's music from the moment I first heard it, in 1982, just eight years after his death. The union of the plaintive voice, the intricate guitar accompaniments, and the moving lyrics in songs like ‘Time has told me’ spoke to me. From the recordings I learned to play some songs, performing them from time to time with my guitar... The idea for Requiem for a Pink Moon had to wait a good long time. Once in a while, when I did find a guitar in my hands, I played 'Time has told me', and noticed how people responded to Nick's music. Then, very surprisingly, in 2000 I heard the song 'Pink Moon' in a movie theater as part of a Volkswagen ad, and was struck again by Nick's particular art. It is an art filled with melancholy, a feeling and a concept uniting him with the singersongwriters of the Elizabethan age. I kept running into people of all ages who knew about Nick and eventually had the idea of a Requiem. The idea of juxtaposing old and new appealed to me. I decided that I would perform portions of the Gregorian Requiem Mass (the Mass for the dead) alongside Nick's songs arranged for early instruments... Rest in peace, Nick, and thank you for the beautiful music." --from Joel Frederiksen’s liner notes for Requiem for a Pink Moon

Audio clip: Joel Frederiksen and Ensemble Phoenix Munich perform Nick Drake’s ‘From the Morning,’ from Requiem for a Pink Moon

I am also continuing, of course, my own Ensemble Phoenix Munich concert series for the third season at Munich's Bavarian National Museum. I am really looking forward to the first concert, which will be something rather far out: a brand new program that I hope to record sometime called Requiem for a Pink Moon. In this piece, I set parts of the plain-song Requiem Mass and intertwine it with pieces from Nick Drake, an English singer-songwriter of the 1970s. In addition to setting Nick's songs for Renaissance instruments and voices, I am working with [John] Dowland and [Thomas] Campion songs that have similar themes and bringing it all together. Right now, it is a work in progress. From an interview conducted by Maria Nockin, "Out of the Ashes and On Fire: Bass Joel Frederksen," published in the October 16, 2011 issue of Classical Singer Magazine

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024