Zia: Del Sol String Quartet (Del Sol String Quartet) (Sono Luminus: DSL-92164)
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The Zia Indians' symbol for the sacred sun captures the adventurous spirit and global pulse of this CD from Sono Luminus and the award winning Del Sol String Quartet. The composers represented Gabriela Frank, Lou Harrison, José Evangelista, Reza Vali and Elena Kats-Chernin all trained in the Western European tradition, reach back to ancient and traditional folk music sources and cultures from Peru, Turkey, Spain, Iran, and Uzbekistan in creating vibrant new music for string quartet.
While the five contemporary composers on this CD are deeply tied to the Western European music tradition--especially its system of notation--they draw on ancient and traditional folk music from four corners of the world and make it new by incorporating techniques such as inventive intonations or heterophony.
The eldest of these, Lou Harrison (1917-2003), was encouraged to view the world's vast array of traditional music influences by his teacher, Henry Cowell (1894-1965).
Cowell went beyond his predecessors (Beethoven, Rimsky-Korsakov, Bartok, and others) by proselytizing for in-depth studies of music in Asia, Africa, Central and South America and what we call the "Middle East", rather than just a few selected European ethnicities. In retrospect, his lifelong work created a more welcoming environment for those who emerged after his death, including José Evangelista, b. 1943, Reza Vali, b. 1952, Elena Kats-Chernin, b. 1957, and Gabriela Lena Frank, b. 1972. The San Francisco based Del Sol String Quartet, founded in 1992, has long made a practice of fostering contemporary music from throughout the entire Western Hemisphere, working with the composers themselves whenever possible. Since Del Sol released their first commercial CD in 2002 focused on music of the Americas, their recorded repertoire has expanded to composers of the Pacific Rim (Ring of Fire (2008)), historical antecedents--the complete quartets of George Antheil (2005) and Mark Blitzstein (2009)--and, by this release, a more global scope, with influences from Peru, Turkey, Spain, Iran, and Uzbekistan. Del Sol's approach is distinguished by selecting music originally composed for string quartet rather than arrangements referencing traditional folk music. Critically acclaimed as "steeped in bravery and imagination" (James M. Keller, Chamber Music Magazine (February 2007), this high energy quartet of master musicians explores new ways to interact with audiences, composers and artists across cultures and art forms.
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The album opens with "Leyendas (Legends): An Andean Walkabout" by Gabriela Lena Frank. The work is series of short sketches based on Chilean native culture. Some references are overt, such as using fourth and fifths in imitation of Andean pipes; while others are quite subtle, such as incorporating the Dies Irae into a movement depicting native professional mourners. Frank's amalgamation of traditional elements with contemporary classical tradition creates a work that sounds simultaneously exotic and familiar.
Harrison's best known for his explorations of non-Western music. His "String Quartet Set," though, is based on European classical music, albeit not the kind one might expect. Harrison uses music of a medieval minnesinger, an obscure French baroque composer, and music of the Turkish court. Completed in 1979, the work sounds as fresh and modern as if it had been penned yesterday.
Spanish composer Jose Evangelista weaves 12 Spanish folk songs together in his piece "Spanish Garland." This deceptively simple and attractive work presents the source material in a single movement that seamlessly glides from song to song.
Reza Vali's "Nayshaborak" is part of his "Calligraphy" series. It recasts the musical traditions of Vali's native Iran into Western classical forms. And quite successfully, too. The violins (to my ears) effectively emulate the Persian setar in an entrancing fashion.
Australia-based composer Elena Kats-Chermin's "Fast Blue Village 2" is a sophisticated, cosmopolitan sketch of a major city. As the title suggests, there are bluesy bending of notes, coupled with the relentless drive of minimalism. Not that this is minimalist piece. The texture is quite thick and the melody churns and changes continually, capturing the high-energy of a bustling metropolis.
Although the styles on this release are wide-ranging, the Del Sol handles it all with ease. And no wonder. The quartet actively promotes contemporary music that stretches beyond the borders of this country. And they frequently work directly with the composers (as they did with some on this album). With that level of commitment, the results can't be anything other than a great performance. And in this case, a great program, too.
I'm also impressed by the amount of different timbres the Del Sol Quartet was able to produce for this album; very innovative. The liner notes in this album are also very informative, and describes each piece preformed in great detail.
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