Antje Buchheiser, Christiane Fischer, (a cat), Olaf Parusel
A review from ink19.com
Fans of the 1990s-era Heavenly Voices compilations will fondly remember Stoa's gorgeous, pleasantly melancholy neoclassical music -- especially its lovely, ethereal female vocals. Although the band was founded by composer and keyboard player Olaf Parusel in 1991, Zal
is only its third album, its second with singer Antje Buchheiser (who has since been replaced by a new singer, Mandy Bernhardt). Cellist Christiane Fischer and oboist Barbara Uhle round out the lineup for this album.
From the first note of Zal, Stoa transports the listener to another world with their outstanding musicianship and truly innovative, moving compositions. Each of the musicians has extensive classical training, and this really shows through in the quality of their playing. In the world of Zal, the colors are sharper (including the abundant blacks and grays), the emotions are deeper and the memories more vivid. As you might expect of a European darkwave act, the dominant emotion is melancholy--but a beautiful, inspiring melancholy, like that of the Romantics.
Three of the eleven tracks on Zal are instrumentals, including the album-opening "I Held the Moon," one of my favorite pieces on the album. It sets the perfect tone with its lovely mellow, melancholy piano solo echoing in the vast space of a hollow heart deserted by the lover that once made it come alive. With the exception of a fine cover of Black Tape for a Blue Girl's "I Wish You Could Smile," all songs use poems for lyrics, including Joyce's "Alone" and Verlaine's "Chanson d'Automne." Of the songs, "Maare" (lyrics by Keiji Sayama) is the most moving. It begins with slowly shifting, brooding synths, which soon merge with faster, more rhythmic sounds, like waves drifting across the ocean, the dancing spray on their crests set afire by the last light of the drowning sun. Antje's vocals are enchanting here, backed with exquisitely sensitive cello accompaniment, combining to evoke a vision so alluring you yearn to embrace it, yet so fragile you dare not even breathe upon it. "Ariel's Song" (lyrics by Shakespeare) is another incredibly intricate, impressive and evocative musical composition. And, "Soft Snow" does an amazing job setting Blake's words dancing, with its lovely, gentle piano solo like caresses of snow on your upturned face, soon merging with slow and tearful voice and cello mourning the death of the perfect flakes as the skirling sheets of snow billow out into nothingness. - Dave Aftandilian
A review from starvox.net
Stoa have been making critically acclaimed neo-classical / ethereal music since 1991. Not an especially prolific band, with only three full releases under their belts in those eleven plus years, it is apparent that principal songwriter Olaf Parusel takes his time composing, arranging and envisioning his stirring music. A lot of artists apply the term ‘neo-classical’ to describe their music, but few truly seem to base their music on classical theory. And even fewer produce convincing synthetic ethereal music. Olaf’s arrangements are rich and impressive in their authenticity – much of this album sounds as if it was actually performed by a flesh and blood orchestra. The presence of cellist Christiane Fischer provides an even more organic touch, and the soft soprano vocals of Mandy Bernhardt are beautiful and powerful all the same. I was getting pretty worn out on the whole ‘angelic’ female vocal thing there for a while, but Ms. Bernhardt’s vocals are an aural treat and her delivery and tone has more in common with Dawn Upshaw or Rene Fleming than with the latest amateur ‘Goth’ siren.
Included here are ten sublime original compositions, and one venerable cover of an early and wonderfully moving Black Tape For A Blue Girl song entitled “I Wish You Could Smile.” The overall feeling of the CD is one of a tender melancholy and quiet reflection. Predominantly centered on buoyant orchestral strings, passages of reverberated pianos and soft mournful oboes, Zal” unfolds like a single, coherent piece of symphonic music, with various movements, interludes, and refrains. Though an intimate release, it is still quite interesting and holds the listener spellbound, rather than lull them into a kind of soporific ennui. This release is comprised of fascinating and captivating music, mellow but intriguing all the same. I found myself listening intently to the flow of the music, wondering what instrument will be introduced next, what metamorphosis the melodies will take, and in what manner the layers of melody will merge together. Stoa’s music is transcendent and spirits the listener to a gray world of nostalgic dream and promising reverie, beautiful but not overly so. Sweet yet tempered with a darker undercurrent of the ominous. This is an extraordinarily good release for fans of ethereal, cinematic, or symphonic music, and I highly recommend it to readers with more refined tastes for classical and the like. The female vocals are truly heavenly, the cello passages utterly gorgeous, and the arrangements are perfectly fashioned and well designed. But above all, this CD succeeds in stirring the heart, and provides the perfect respite and trancelike escape for the listener. Sublime and profoundly affective, you won’t regret adding this CD to your collection. - Matthew Heilman
A review from chaindlk.net
It's good every now and then to take a break and revel in the joys of classical music, and I do this more often than not! I am a firm believer you can do anything to Beethoven's 5th and 9th symphonies! ANYTHING! And my worship of Das Ich is only further proof, and the almighty Helium Vola and Deine Lakaien. Two things are obvious with this group: (1). They have more melancholy than the usual classical group (2). They have all had some pretty thorough training to have done this. The man behind it spent several years in the oldest and most respected line of choir in the world, and it shows why they'd pick him. This music is very moody yet beautiful on top of it all, perfectly flowing and catching you in it's spell of violins and piano lines before you even notice it, you're jsut a little more peaceful. My favorite track is their splendid cover of Black Tape For A Blue Girl's "I wish You Could Smile", with it's plinking keys and ethereal atmosphere perfectly complimenting one another. Track 4 also is a highlight with it's Baroque style of playing, which seems to me like a lost art. Great little CD to listen to in the park or when you're meditating or just relaxing. Even for classical purists it's a pretty solid bet. Just gorgeous music for those who appreciate it! Rating:10. Recommended for those into Black Tape's As One Aflame Laid Bare By Desire
and neo-classical in general. - KlingKlangBedlam
A review from musictap.net 4 out of 5 stars
| sToa has produced a stunning album of such classical force that it assaults you with its deeply embedded aural beauty. I was captured by their incredible ability to take ethereally perfect works and recreate them in such a way so as to present a new and fresh interpretation. Using their classical skills to lay a foundation of such empyrean nature and that elicits the unearthly, this collection of songs, including Black Tape for a Blue Girl's lovely and poignant "I Wish You Could Smile" is, as such, the music of God. The expansive sound textures that fill this album with its heavenly gossamer quality brings an uplifting experience to the listener. Minimalist in style, progressive in scope and presentation, you'll be hard pressed not to sprout wings of fancy and soar with the inherent joy that this creation blows into the air, just as a faerie would blow dusts of purity in the face of a child. Eleven songs and all filled with the airy spaciousness that were instilled into them during recording. The disc starts out with an instrumental, expressive and mild as a melancholic thought, "I Held The Moon" is sonically graceful for its mood setting. Followed by "Alone", the filmy barrier of night and moon creates a luscious and sweet symphony that transport you to the wonderment of absolute serenity that could only be enjoyed by one 's self.
But the real joy comes in the third song, Black Tape/Sam Rosenthal's affecting "I Wish You Could Smile". Despite the seemingly sad lyrics, sToa's musical offering creates an anticipatory feeling, as if one was heading into the heart of bliss. The reinterpretation of this song is the highlight of this disc and one that I found my self returning to time and time again. The angelic vocals of Antje Bucheiser are rapturous. Accompanied by the lush instrumentations provided by Christiane Fischer and Barbara Uhle, the combination just works wonderfully. There is uncredited piano work here that is a major part of the overall soundscape. It is a shame that the pianist is not listed. There are other diamonds on this disc. They all work in tandem to produce the feelings of oneness with the universe in many ways. Whether you use this disc in a utilitarian way, and you can, as a soundtrack of events, nature, etc, or merely as a closed eyes escape, this work delivers in every way imaginable. From the Shakespearian lyrical soundpiece and William Blake/James Joyce inspirations to the instrumentals that weave through this album, sToa has set out to capture your imagination and your heart. And they do it with such force that will endear you to them forever.
You will be a fan for all time.
DISC | This CD is recorded as spacious as could have been. The mix of the two channels is such that the music interwines with itself to produce a blanket of sound that envelops the listener. Beautifully recorded.
PACKAGING | This disc provides an excellent 16 page booklet printed on heavy stock. The booklet provides enhancing art that is descriptive to the piece that they are assigned to as well as lyrics where they apply. There is a credits page and the back sports the track listing. Photos of the band would have been nice as well as notes concerning the band and their mission.
THE FINAL SAY | The expansive and lush recording that is ZAL is an absolute necessity to your collection. If you are classically minded and enjoy the soundscape of interpretation, then sToa is one for you to look up and indulge your ears and your spirit with.
A review from releasemagazine.net
The long absence of Stoa from the musical world has been glaring since they left Hyperium Records in 1997. It also does not help that they have not released an album since 1995 with "Porta VIII" (a re-release is expected shortly). Cut to 2002 and Olaf Parusel has re-emerged under the banner of the brilliant band which is Stoa. This is worth owning more than any number of the so-called "neo-classic" samplers which have exploited this style which creation Stoa was part of in the early nineties. Along with bands such as Ophelia's Dream, Anchorage and Love Is Colder Than Death, Stoa was part of Hyperium's elite in terms of this style. The pairing of synthetic instruments with classical arrangements is what neo-classic is all about and these bands, led by Stoa brought into the world a wonderous new style; truly a classical approach without any of the dreaded world music influences which later derailed pioneers Dead Can Dance. The classic style of Stoa flourishes beautifully on this new album. Masterful string arrangements abound and are accompanied by some scorchingly astounding vocals by Antje Buchheiser. Add to this some sombre oboe work and crystalline cello playing and you have an album which will reduce you to a torrent of emotional jelly. There is one thing and one thing only which angers me about this album, of the eleven tracks, only eight are new. The other three have been issued on compilations over the past eight years. It is for that reason they only get a seven. This disc is a fine return to form for Stoa and I really hope they don't take so bloody long with the next one. - Peter Marks
Stoa History | STOA was founded in 1991. Olaf Parusel (composer/arranger) looked at this time for a new way to connect his musical and philosophical thoughts. He found a voice in Conny Levrow. In the same year the first song "Stoa" was released on the compilation From Hypnotic ... to Hypersonic (Hyperium) The CD Urthona (Hyperium) followed in 1992. This CD soldmore than 14,000 copies worldwide. Both members worked a lot in other projects in the years before. Conny played the violin for more than 10 years and performed in many orchestras. Besides this she sang in some classical choruses and as a soloist. She is familiar with barock and romantic compositions like G.F. Handel, E. Grieg or Pergolesi. Olaf was in his childhood a member of the "Stadtsingechor Halle" the oldest chorus of the world. Later he played in many musical projects and bands. He also composed for TV. He studied musicology and philosophy.
In 1994 the second CD Porta VIII (Hyperium) was released. This CD is an album with a concept based on the fairy tale Ariadne et Barbe Bleue by Maurice Maeterlinck. But Porta VIII was a continuation of the original fairy tale. This album too was selling too more than 10,000 worldwide and climbed the Mexican charts. Since 1997 there was a new line-up. Conny left STOA for following her classical career. The new singer is Antje Buchheiser. She has played violin for more than 11 years. And she sings in a classical chorus (The "Hallenser Madrigalisten"). She performed a lot in classical music for example in Germany, Japan, Cuba ... Another new member since 1996 is Christiane Fischer. She plays the Cello and is singing the second voice at live concerts. STOA signed to the great german publisher Alster Musikverlag. In 1997 STOA left Hyperium for various reasons. At the moment they are free for new ways.
STOA performed sporadically at special places or events. They played for example at the Wave-Gotik-Treffen in a 100years old and 80 metres high monument of more than 1000 people, at the Zeche Carl in Essen and was on tour in Mexico in1998 (inter alia with the Goethe-Institut). In 2001 they finished their new Album Zal.