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Album Review: Communion
Ralph Zurmühle
Cover image of the album Communion by Ralph Zurmühle
Ralph Zurmühle
2003 / Ralph Music
53 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Communion is the second of three mostly solo piano CDs by Swiss-born pianist/composer Ralph Zurmühle. Like his other two recordings, this one is absolutely stunning for its beauty, honesty, and passion. Much of the music is quiet and understated, but when a piece requires speed, dexterity, or power, Zurmühle’s effortless virtuosity shines through every time. I listen to hundreds of piano CDs every year, and it’s amazing how obvious it is when an artist really “has it.” Ralph Zurmühle is one of those few who keep the barre raised for other pianists and who keep reviewers like me smiling. This is deeply personal music that comes straight from the heart. It works as relaxing background music, but is sublime to listen to with full attention.

Communion begins with “A Fairy Tale,” a classically-styled piece that is gentle and bittersweet. Some of the melody is played in the treble registers of the piano, suggesting lightness and innocence; in other parts, the right hand crosses over to play the melody in the bass, giving the piece weight. A middle section is more improvised and free, then it returns to the original theme. What a beauty! “Sublime Moments” is serenity set to music and played with a velvet touch. “The Train” picks up the pace with energy and enthusiasm. Ralph obviously enjoys traveling by train! If I had the difficult task of picking a favorite piece on this CD, it would be “The Ocean Beyond Time.” A more soulful and passionate piece would be hard to find. Sometimes delicate and fragile and sometimes strong and powerful, this is a piece that makes my fingers itch to play it! At just under eight minutes, it evolves organically and without rushing - incredible! “Alone” is minimalism at its most beautiful. Dark and soul-searching, it captures the mood of feeling both physically and emotionally isolated. The last three tracks are a trilogy of pieces motivated by The Communion of Love, an ancient ritual celebrated by the earliest Christians, the Essenes. “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” is very spare but evocative - almost prayer-like. “Quadosh, Quadosh, Quadosh” is more orchestrated with ambient and atmospheric sounds behind leisurely strings, piano, and organ. At close to 14 minutes, it creates a quiet, peaceful mood and sustains it beautifully. “Shalom” is also orchestrated, with organ, ethereal voices, and strings combining into a wordless prayer for peace. This is another lengthy work (11 1/2 minutes) that evolves and builds as it goes, sometimes shimmering and sometimes almost cinematic.

What an incredible album Communion is! I give it my highest recommendation. It is available from amazon.com, cdbaby.com, and iTunes.
March 18, 2009