If Grief Could Wait

Giovanna Pessi, Susanna Wallumrød, Marco Ambrosini, Jane Achtman

CD18,90 out of print

Harpist Giovanna Pessi has previously been heard on ECM recordings with Christian Wallumrød and with Rolf Lislevand. On her first leader date for ECM she introduces a unique project of old and new songs in which 17th century pieces by Henry Purcell are interspersed with 20th century ballads of Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake and 21st century songs of Susanna Wallumrød, all rendered timeless by the ‘early music’ instrumentation and Susanna’s pure, understated vocal style.

Featured Artists Recorded

November 2010, Auditorio RSI - Radio Svizzera, Lugano

Original Release Date


  • 1The Plaint
    (Traditional, Henry Purcell)
  • 2Who By Fire
    (Leonard Cohen)
  • 3If Grief Has Any Pow'r To Kill
    (Traditional, Henry Purcell)
  • 4The Forester
    (Susanna Wallumrød)
  • 5A New Ground
    (Henry Purcell)
  • 6You Know Who I Am
    (Leonard Cohen)
  • 7Hangout
    (Susanna Wallumrød)
  • 8O Solitude
    (Traditional, Henry Purcell)
  • 9Which Will
    (Nick Drake)
  • 10A New Scotch Tune
    (Henry Purcell)
  • 11Music For A While
    (Traditional, Henry Purcell)
  • 12A New Scotch Tune, Var.
    (Henry Purcell)
  • 13An Evening Hymn
    (Traditional, Henry Purcell)
Cohen’s, Nick Drake’s and Wallumrød’s own songs all thread through the Purcell, stately and crystalline.
David Honigmann, Financial Times
It´s a unique and audacious collaboration with baroque harpist Giovanna Pessi that has the makings of an unlikely cross-genre hit. (…) The quiet force of Wallumrød´s personality within such a formal early-music structure is mesmerising.
John Fordham, The Guardian
Susanna Wallumød beherrscht meisterlich die Kunst, sich fremde Lieder zu eigen zu machen. (...) Nun hat sich die junge Norwegerin mit einer Schweizer Harfenistin zusammengetan und surrt Lieder von Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake und dem englischen Barock-Komponisten Henry Purcell, was selbstverständlich herzerfrischend frostig klingt.
Drucklos und ohne Opernstimmen-Pathos säuselt die blonde Norwegerin die sanftesten Melodien ins Mikrofon, ganz gleich, ob sie eine Eigenkomposition singt oder das berühmte "Music for a While" von Henry Purcell, das als erste Zugabe erklang. Fast noch schöner als ihr Gesang ist ihr Fingerspiel. Giovanna Pessi zupft dazu an ihrer Barockharfe die apartesten Kontrapunkte, Marco Ambrosini platziert auf seinem skurrilen Instrument - auch "Schlüsselfidel", "Schlüsselgeige" oder "Tastenfidel" genannt - punktgenaue Interventionen, und Jane Achtman bindet dies alles mit schwellenden Gambentönen unauffällig zusammen.
Sigfried Schibli, Basler Zeitung
Eine perfekte Einspielung für einsame oder zweisame Herbst- und Winterabende und ein weiterer interessanter Versuch, die Musik des Barock mit Jazz- oder Popmusik in einen Dialog zu bringen.
Michael Bordt, klassik.com
Susanna Wallumrod, best known for her Magical Orchestra, delivers a suite of stately 17th-century baroque songs by Purcell, interspersed with gothic ballads from Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake, with such purity of tone and spine-tingling conviction, it´s as if they were intended for one another. Arranged for a trio of early instruments by adventurous Swiss harpist Giovanna Pessi, the music is fresh yet timeless.
Cormac Larkin, Irish Times
Genre-Grenzen sind zum Überschreiten da. Die in Basel geborene Harfinistin Giovanna Pessi und die norweigsche Sängerin Susanna Wallumrod kombinieren auf ihrem fabelhaften Album "If Grief Could Wait" Lieder des englischen Komponisten Herny Purcell mit Songs von Leonard Cohen und Nick Drake. Sofort verschwimmt, welcher Klassiker ein Meister des Hochbarocks und welcher ein Heiliger des Sonwriter-Pop war.
Tobias Schmitz, Stern
Feierliche, so noch nie gehörte Musik ist so entstanden, die in sich ruht und von dort ihre Kraft und Magie entwickelt.
Ulrich Steinmetzger, Thüringische Landeszeitung
 “If Grief Could Wait” is an intimate album of very special character, the outcome of a collaboration between harpist Giovanna Pessi and singer Susanna Wallumrød. Given impetus also by the nyckelharpa of Marco Ambrosini and Jane Achtman’s viola da gamba, the project has Pessi’s arrangements of Henry Purcell songs at its core. It begins with “The Plaint” (from The Fairy Queen of 1692) and continues with “If Grief Has Any Pow’r To Kill”, and “O Solitude” (from The Theatre of Musick), as well as “Music For a While” (from Oedipus) and “An Evening Hymn” (from Harmonia Sacra)

But Purcell’s music has never been heard quite like this. Threaded between his songs and instrumental pieces here are works of singer-songwriters Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake, as well as songs by Susanna Wallumrød herself. “If Grief Could Wait” is neither a project that adheres rigorously to ideals of historical performance practice, nor one that strives self-consciously to “cross over”. Pessi and Wallumrød offer music that they love, and all of it is played with commitment by the participating musicians. Purcell and Cohen are respected on their own terms, and Susanna’s pure voice and Giovanna’s subtle and evocative arrangements bring continuity to the repertoire. And, as Pessi points out, Cohen and Drake songs from the last century are also, from a contemporary perspective, ‘old music’.

Recorded in three days in Lugano last November, this fresh-sounding album has some years of history behind it. Giovanna Pessi previously recorded for ECM with the Rolf Lislevand Ensemble (Lislevand’s “Diminuito”, recorded 2007/8, includes also Marco Ambrosini), and also with the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble, the hard-to-categorize group led by a ‘jazz’ pianist but inspired by contemporary composition and folk music. Wallumrød Ensemble albums with Pessi include “The Zoo Is Far” and “Fabula Suite Lugano”, recorded respectively in 2006 and 2009. It was while rehearsing in Oslo with Christian that Pessi first met the pianist’s younger sister, Susanna Wallumrød, then just beginning to shape her own musical career.

Susanna subsequently invited Giovanna to play harp on one of her albums (“Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos”, issued by Rune Grammofon in 2007), and when producer Manfred Eicher invited Giovanna to come up with a proposal for an ECM recording of her own, the idea of working further with Susanna’s voice had become a priority. “I have played with so many ‘early music’ singers with perfect, trained classical voices and I knew that I didn’t want that kind of sound, not this time. So I asked her if she would like to try.” Susanna Wallumrød had already recorded Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament” (“When I Am Laid In Earth”) from Dido and Aeneas on one of her own albums; the musical territory was not altogether unfamiliar, but finding the appropriate approach to it was the challenge.

Both singer and harpist recognised that the project needed time, if they were to grow together musically. Pessi: “We come from such different places – Susanna with her pop music background, me with my baroque background. I needed to get closer to her feeling for rhythmic playing and singing, and she needed to develop her sense of line and phrasing. We worked a long time on preparing the material. Every time I was in Oslo – which was often when I was playing a lot with Christian - we’d get together and play, and she visited me in Switzerland also.”

Susanna suggested attempting Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire” early in the process, and Pessi countered by proposing one of her favourite Cohen songs, “You Know Who I Am”. Once those had found their place in the repertoire, the way was open to add “Which Will” by the late Nick Drake, as well as “The Forester” and “Hangout” from Susanna’s pen. After a year of duo rehearsals, Marco Ambrosini was added at Manfred Eicher’s suggestion and Giovanna drafted in Jane Achtman, Swiss based viola da gamba player. “They both brought a lot to the music, in the depth and the movement of the lines, and underlining the baroque side of it. Marco I knew well from the Lislevand group, and I’ve always enjoyed working with him. Jane had previously played almost exclusively in early music contexts, but was very open to the spirit of this work.”