Tuesday 21 June 2016

Blurred Boundaries - new music from the Apollo Chamber Players

Apollo Chamber Players - Blurred Boundaries
Larsen, Eryilmaz, Regan, Price, Burleigh, Komatsu; Apollo Chamber Players; Navona Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 15 2016
Star rating: 3.5

Folk-song influenced music with an American accent

This new disc, on Navona Records, by the Apollo Chamber Players (Matthew J Detrick & Anabel Ramirez - violin,  Whitney Bullock - viola, Matthew Dudzik - cello) showcases the ensemble's 20x2020 project. This aims to create 20 new folk-inspired new compositions by 2020.

So, on this disc we have Libby Larsen's Sorrow Song and Jubilee, Erberk Eryilmaz's Thracian Airs of Besime Sultan, and Marty Regan's Splash of Indigo. Alongside these are two of Henry Thacker Burleigh's Plantation Melodies, Old and New, Florence Beatrice Price's Five Folksongs in Counterpoint and Hajime Komatsu's Four Japanese Folk Songs (Suite No. 2).

Libby Larsen's Sorrow Song and Jubilee starts off rather evocative, lyric melancholy with contemporary textures, though the spiritual on which it is based is well hidden. As the work develops, the influence of Antonin Dvorak's quartets becomes apparent.

Next come two of the group's own arrangements of Negro Lullaby and An Ante-Bellum Sermon from the 1901 collection Plantation Melodies, Old and New produced by Henry Thacker Burleigh, the first black composer to be instrumental in the development of a characteristically American music. A pair of attractive and effective arrangements, again with hints of Dvorak.

Five Folksongs in Counterpoint by Florence Beatrice Price, the first African-American woman to be recognised as a symphonic composer, offers five rather striking examples of folksong embedded within counterpoint. The songs are all well known (Calvary, Clementine, Drink to me only, Shortnin' Bread and Swing Low Sweet Chariot). But Price's treatments have a fascinating charm in their use of contrapuntal textures.

Erberk Eryilmaz's Thracian Airs of Besime Sultan evokes the folk songs of Thrace, an area on the borders of modern-day Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, and the Roma peoples. The group is joined by Ismail Lumanovski (clarinet), Timothy Pitts (double bass), and Matthew McClung (percussion). Starting of hauntingly, the piece develops into a lively and catchy medley, full of a sense of the exotic with similarities to the sound world of klezmer.

Hajime Komatsu's Four Japanese Folk Songs (Suite no. 2) have a very neo-classical air to them. The rather modal nature of the folksongs recalls aspects of English folk-song and at first hearing the pieces sounded more of product of mid-twentieth century England than Japan.

Marty Regan's Splash of Indigo also explores an intersection between Japanese folk music and French impressionism. A highly effective piece, it is full of delicate textures and again rather modal.

This is an attractive selection of folk-influences music with a distinctively American accent, all attractively played. But the newly commissioned piece seem a little too inhibited by the music of the past, and I would have liked to hear something which pushed boundaries a little more. Hopefully we will get that in the next instalment.

Libby Larsen (born 1950) - Sorrow Song and Jubilee (2014)
Henry Thacker Burleigh (1866-1949) - Plantation Melodies, Old and New (1901)
Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953) - Five Folksongs in Counterpoint (1951)
Erberk Eryilmaz (born 1989) - Thracian Airs of Besime Sultan (2015)
Hajime Komatsu - Four Japanese Folk Songs (Suite No.2) (1996)
Marty Regan (born 1972) - Splash of Indigo (2014)
Recorded November/December 2015 at Clarion Theatre, Brazosport College, Lake Jackson, TX

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