Amici C Ens; Benjamin Bowman (vn
); Stephen Sitarski (vn
); Steven Dann (va
ATMA 2655 (66:03)
Overture on Hebrew Themes.
Armenian Song. Sayyid Chants and Dances:
Nos. 10, 29.
Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello.
Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello:
7 Balkan Dances for Clarinet, Cello and Piano.
(Fantasy on a chorus from
La passion según San Marcos
This is a strange yet wonderful disc of music from the Middle East and environs, or influenced by the same. In fact, the only non-Middle Eastern composers here are Glazunov, Prokofiev, Tajčević, and Golijov, yet all four used music from the region as a basis for these compositions. I found Prokofiev’s
Overture on Hebrew Themes
to be a particularly attractive and almost out-of-character composition for him, but as the CD goes on you’ll soon find yourself captivated by the music here.
Perhaps the only pieces one can honestly call transcriptions are the ones by George Gurdjieff, since he did not know how to write music. His sacred dances, which he called “movements,” were composed by ear and notated by his pupil, the Russian pianist Thomas de Hartmann. They are brief, highly atmospheric pieces influenced by the Caucuses and Central Asia.
One of the strongest pieces on this set, and a centerpiece to the album, is the Piano Trio by Solhi Al-Wadi (1934-2007), a Syrian conductor-composer born in Iraq who studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. After returning to Damascus, he founded a High Institute of Music and Theater, the Damascus Opera House, and the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra. Serouj Kradjian, the pianist for the Amici Ensemble who also wrote the liner notes, suggests that the second movement is almost Shostakovich-like, but I found it less cynical than Shostakovich, while the last movement “encapsulates Al-Wadi’s brilliance as it morphs from a theme similar to a Syriac chant, which is first introduced in the piano, to the nervous laughter of fate” which “eventually calms down, only to fade away in peace and quiet.” It is a wholly remarkable piece, and one which will repay careful and repeated listening.
The fame of the late Yugoslav composer Marko Tajčević (1900-1984) rests largely, the notes say, on these seven Balkan Dances written in 1926. Originally for piano solo, they are transcribed here for clarinet trio and given an excellent performance. The third and last of the Gurdjieff pieces,
Sayyid Chants and Dance
No. 10, is one of the most hypnotic and fascinating pieces on this entire CD.
became something of a popular “hit” when it was recorded by a group led by cellist Yo-Yo Ma on one of his “Silk Road Project” albums, but to be honest Ma’s performance is incredibly stiff and lacking the exuberance of Abou-Khalil’s original recording. This version, arranged by Kradjian for string trio, has an out-of-tempo introduction not on the original, but when they swing into the odd-metered waltz, it sounds much more like the composer’s own recording. The CD ends with Osvaldo Golijov’s
Fantasy on a chorus from
La passion según San Marcos,
a sprightly, percussive piece in the same vein as Abou-Khalil’s music. There are no Middle Eastern rhythms or harmonies here, but African-American and Cuban influences that make the music really swing. I’d love to hear Golijov’s complete
St. Mark Passion
someday if this is a representative sample. This is a wonderful album, not only eclectic and fun but a real musical education. Bravo, Amici!
Lynn René Bayley