Wednesday 12 October 2016

Cross-cultural friendship: Jean-Guihen Queyras, Bijan & Keyvan Chemirani

Thrace: Sunday Morning Sessions - Harmonia Mundi
Thrace: Sunday Morning Sessons; Jean-Guihen Queyras, Bijan & Keyvan Chemirani, Sokratis Sinopoulos; Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 3 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Cross cultural collaborations with friendship at their heart

Thrace: Sunday Morning Sessions is a new disc from Harmonia Mundi which combines a classical cello with the lyra (a Greek and Turkish instrument whose origins date back to Byzantine times), and Middle-Eastern percussion instruments the zarb and daf. As befits the eclectic mix of instruments, the performers give us a variety of composers, Frank Leriche, Sokratis Sinopoulos, Witold Lutoslawski, Ostad Mohamad Reza Lotfi, Bijan & Kevyan Chemirani, Jorg Widman, Ross Daly as well as anonymous.

The mix sounds a little indigestible on paper, but works in practice perhaps because it has at its heart a cross-cultural friendship. Cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras grew up with Bijan and Keyvan Chemirani (whose father, the great Persian tombak player Djamchild Chemirani, had settled in France). As children Queyras and the Chemirani brothers bonded over football, but as Queyras' musical horizons expanded after joining the Ensemble Intercontemperain, the friendship turned into a musical collaboration. And here they are also joined by the Greek musician Sokratis Sinopoulos, a contemporary master of the lyra, a small bowed instrument whose range and volume belies its size.

The music which they play is wide ranging, but in all the pieces they bring what might be called a Mediterranean sensibility to the music.
This involves a flexibility of rhythm which is not common in the Western classical canon, so that the opening Khamse involves quintuple time with the beat divided 2+3, whilst the Nihavent Semai involves a 10-beat rhythm (crotchet, quaver, crotchet, crotchet, crotchet, quaver) which is given inventive and fluid variations. Over these rhythms you have the fluidity of pitch, and a use of modes which is far more sophisticated than the simple classical major and minor scales.

Each of the performers brings something to the mix, so that each gets solo moments, and each contributes specific repertoire. Sinopoulos has written the traditional-inspired Nihavent Semai, whilst the Chemirani brothers give wonderful improvisation. And Queyras plays Lutoslawski and Widman, these two might at first stand out but their use of pitch variations and sheer inventiveness make them fit in remarkably well. What you get overall is the sense of the performers curiosity and willingness to bend flexibly to different traditions, combining the two.

What you get from the disc is the sense of friendly colleagiality between the performers and the sheer enjoyment of trying things out and making music together.

Thrace: Sunday Morning Sessions
Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello)
Sokratis Sinopoulos (lyra)
Bijan & Keyvan Chemirani (zarb, daf)
Recorded at Studio Durance, Chateau-Arnoux, October 2015
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902242 1CD [63.03]
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