That Christina Vantzou partners with Stars of the Lid's Adam Wiltzie in The Dead Texan—their collaborative efforts documented on a self-titled album released on kranky in 2004—provides a natural point of entrance for her solo album. Yet while the ten pieces on No. 1 do share certain qualities with Stars of the Lid's ethereal mini-symphonies, there's a major difference: Vantzou's album is a neo-classical composition performed by a mini-orchestra, with nary a sample, synthesizer, or electronic element to be found (though a speaking voice sample does surface near the end of “Super Interlude Pt.2”). Or perhaps I should say involved in the final product, as the album's production began with the Brussels-based Vantzou composing the material in isolation over a three-year stretch and using synthesizers, samples, and her voice to build the tracks into their originating form. That was followed by a long-distance collaboration with Magik*Magik Orchestra director Minna Choi who reconfigured Vantzou's forty-five-minute material into a score for a seven-piece orchestra that recorded the material in a two-day session in San Francisco. Listening to the final product, one wonders what post-production might have been done, given that the orchestra in question sounds much fuller than what one would expect a chamber-like septet could provide. Though horns and woodwinds are present, it's strings that are the dominant voice in these assured settings.
A curious tension often emerges between the earthy orchestral arrangements and the sometimes extra-terrestrial character of the material. That's never more apparent than during “Prelude for Juan,” where Vantzou's material assumes a powerful Ligeti-esque flavour, and “Adversary” and “And Instantly Take Effect,” where long swaths of overlapping string tones produce a meditative quality that's very much in the Stars of the Lid style. Even so, there's no denying that No. 1 ultimately registers as a full-fledged symphonic work, simply by virtue of its orchestral arrangements. Best of all, Vantzou, despite having potentially powerful sonic resources at her disposal, opts for understatement over bombast in her writing. Percussion is all but absent and when there are horns, they're more inclined to be presented in a muted form, as happens during the plaintive setting “Super Interlude Pt.1.” Though there are subtle contrasts in arrangement and form between the ten tracks, they collectively coalesce to form a singular, long-form suite. All in all, No. 1 impresses as a lovely, largely serene work of orchestral composition that argues convincingly for Vantzou as a thoroughly credible neo-classical composer.