Review: Raphael Weinroth-Browne – “Worlds Within Live”

What can we learn when a musician re-records a post-classical solo work, without an audience, then bills it and releases it as a live recording? That’s the question the Canadian cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne asks on Worlds Within Live, a re-creation of his excellent 2020 LP. It turns out: we can learn a lot, just maybe not what we expected. Weinroth-Browne is most assuredly a master at his instrument, and on this live set he wrings incredible light and shadow from the cello. But instead of adding conversation to the Worlds Within dialogue, the new LP, which Weinroth-Browne self-released, instead points out what was so wonderful, so mesmerizing about its predecessor.

Worlds Within was a powerful collection of cello suites – emotive to a T, a real tour-de-force much in the manner of Alder & Ash’s The Crowneater – but the new LP doesn’t re-interpret the wonder of the previous record. It illustrates, quite poignantly, the unusual sense of depth and portraiture that live recording sometimes lacks.

Looping-pedal technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in the past 20 or so years. Those technological advancements here enable Weinroth-Browne to construct all sorts of layers of sound which a generation ago would have required careful multi-tracking in a home or professional studio. But something is lost in translation. Look to the “Tumult” suite, much of which Weinroth-Browne combines into a three-piece composition on Worlds Within Live. As on the original, the cellist is backed by an off-tempo click-track, but what is missing in the new recording is a lot of the studio and compositional texture – that sense of dread – that made “Tumult” so transfixing in the first place. Weinroth-Browne’s playing is top-notch. The soaring strings on the first third of “Tumult I II II” will send shivers down listeners’ spines. But there’s only so far one cello can go in delivering the abyss, even if that cello is looped ad infinitum.

Elsewhere, Weinroth-Browne toys with the live-recording format to great effect. The opening track, in fact, messes with your sense of sequencing, going from World Within opener “Unending I” to “From Within I,” but not including the closing bridges of the second composition. It freshens the mix, but more than that it points to the ways in which Weinroth-Browne first constructed the suites, an interesting meta moment.

And what to make of the lack of an audience for this live performance? It doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, that’s for sure. Audiences at post-classical performances such as Weinroth-Browne’s both in the West and East are typically pin-drop quiet for these sorts of things. But recording the LP in real time in front of a living, breathing audience would have added another layer of context. In the era of COVID-19 – which thwarted the original Worlds Within, released in January 2020, from gathering much of the critical praise it deserved – it also would have a sense of danger, perhaps, or one of liberation.

Weinroth-Browne has landed on something quite interesting here – but perhaps not for the reasons he might have intended. Worlds Within Live, like the 2020 mold that came before it, is a beautiful LP and worth hearing from top to bottom – sometimes repeatedly. But, instead of shining the spotlight on Weinroth-Browne’s genius, it gets you excited to compare notes with the original work and not listen to a live reprise. And, in that sense, it might not accomplish what its creator had intended it to do in the first place. A great LP – but with an odd sleight-of-hand. — Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, July 13, 2021


About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.