Wednesday 23 August 2017

Viola and accordion: Duo van Vliet's Lachrymae Revisited

Lachrymae Revisited - Duo van Vliet - Orchid Classics
John Dowland, Benjamin Britten, Adam Porebski, Rory Boyle, Gavin Higgins, Toshio Hosokawa; Duo van Vliet; Orchid Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 22 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Britten's viola classic re-invented, alongside contemporary works for this imaginative duo of viola and accordion

This disc from Duo van Vliet (Ian Anderson, viola, and Rafal Luc, accordion) on Orchid Classics gives an intriguing new take on Britten's Lachrymae (Reflections on a song of Dowland), re-casting in for viola and accordion. If that seems a rather unusual instrumental combination then try listening to the opening track on the album, John Dowland's If my complaints could passions move, in which the two instruments combine in a striking manner producing almost viol-like dark tones. There is more Dowland to finish the disc, but the main companions to the Britten are a sequence of contemporary pieces by Adam Porebski, Rory Boyle, Gavin Higgins and Toshio Hosokawa.

Rafal Luc (who is Polish) and Ian Anderson (who is Scottish) began playing together when studying at the Royal Academy of Music. The duo's name comes from Don van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart.

Britten's Lachrymae was written in 1948 for the viola player William Primrose, this version had piano accompaniment, but Britten re-worked the piece for viola and strings towards the end of his life. Though technically a set of variations, Britten referred to the movements as reflections, and it is only at the end that we finally hear the theme albeit in a version modified by Britten.

The key to any successful transcription is that we should, to a certain extent, forget the original and listen to the transcription on its own terms. The accordion has elements in common with both of Britten's versions, the percussive nature of the piano and the sustaining ability of the strings. But here we do indeed find ourselves drawn into a new world, with the accordion really contributing to the darkly melancholic atmosphere of the work. This is a deeply thoughtful performance, which suggests that there might be other 20th century pieces which could be so-reinvented.

Adam Porebski's ReVerse2 was written in 2013 for Duo van Vliet, which premiered it in 2014. It is a dramatic, dark piece which pushes both instruments to their limits in terms of both technique and ranges (going both very high, and very low), with Porebski creating some amazing textures. The work was awarded First Prize in the National Composition Competition in Poznan in 2013.

Next follows a pair of solo pieces, first Rory Boyle's Such Sweet Sorrow for solo viola. This 2009 piece was written for Ian Anderson and Boyle describes it as 'a realisation of Giles Farnaby's Loth to Depart'. Boyle combines the viola's melodic capabilities with its ability to play accompanying drones. The result has a rather Eastern European folk-ish or Norwegian Hardanger fiddle feel, but at times the counterpoint evokes Bach's unaccompanied preludes. Gavin Higgin's Kathedrale for solo accordion was written in 2013 and commissioned by Rafal Luc who premiered it in 2014. The piece is a musical response to Andreas Gursky's large scale photograph, Kathedrale I which was shot inside Chartres Cathedral. It starts with the accordion playing very high and sustained, creating a rather eerie feel, the music develops more of a sense of complex structure, but ultimately the opening material returns.

Toshio Hosokawa's In Die Tiefer Der Zeit (Into the Depths of Time) was originally written for cello, accordion and strings but Hosokawa transcribed it for viola and accordion in 1996. It starts high and sustained, as flurries from the viola move into more developed material. Hosokawa creates an eerie, rather disturbing atmosphere which made me think of the genre of film music for a haunted house, a link which is probably not intentional.

Finally we get a beautifully realised version of John Dowland's Flow my tears.

This is the duo's debut recording, and showcases its trademark contemporary pieces along with something more traditional, really showing the versatility of this unusual coupling.

John Dowland (1563-1626) - If my complaints could passions move (1597) [2.42]
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) - Lachrymae (Reflections on a song of Dowland) (1948) [15.28]
Adam Porebski (born 1990) - ReVerse2 (2013) [11.52]
Rory Boyle (born 1951) - Such sweet sorrow (2009) [7.29]
Gavin Higgins (born 1983) - Kathedrale (2013) [6.44]
Toshio Hosokawa (born 1955) - In die Tiefe der Zeit (1996) [16.42]
John Dowland (1563-1626) - Flow, my tears (1600) [4.15]
Duo van Vliet (Ian Anderson, viola, Rafal Luc, accordion)
Recorded at MAQ Records, Wojkowice, Poland, August 2014-June 2015
ORCHID CLASSICS ORC100069 1 CD [65.14]
Available from Amazon.

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