“The Ground Beneath Our Feet” = Works of REICH, BACH, STRAVINSKY, JACOBSEN/AGHAEI, THE KNIGHTS – The Knights – Warner Classics

“The Ground Beneath Our Feet” = STEVE REICH: Duet for Two Violins and Strings; J.S. BACH: Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C Minor; IGOR STRAVINSKY: Concerto in E-flat, “Dumbarton Oaks”; COLIN JACOBSEN/SIAMAK AGHAEI: Concerto for Santur, Violin and Orchestra; THE KNIGHTS: The Ground Beneath Our Feet – The Knights – Warner Classics 0825646170982, 75:20 (1/27/15) ***1/2:

The Knights are an “orchestral collective” based in New York and, according to press material, they are flexible in size and repertory and are “dedicated to transforming the concert experience.” A lot of their concerts take place in alternative spaces and often with a multimedia component. The founding members, and artistic directors, are the Jacobsen brothers; violinist Colin Jacobsen and cellist Eric Jacobsen. They made their mark, initially, with the also “cutting edge” ensemble, the “Brooklyn Rider” string quartet.

This album is certainly a clear example of their unusual, eclectic approach to programming. We have everything here from Bach to Reich and even the concerto for the Iranian hammered dulcimer or santur.

The ground beneath our feet was recorded live at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. – the namesake of Stravinsky’s masterwork. The program itself is structured to revisit the concept of the concerto grosso. Each work represented here does have elements of the form; some overtly and some, a little less obviously.

The two best known pieces here are, most likely, the Bach Concerto for violin and oboe and the Stravinsky “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto. These are both very fine performances but, I felt, especially the Stravinsky. This is a well-known work; very idiomatic of Stravinsky’s classical approach, patterned after the Bach Brandenburg Concertos. The Knights give a very lively and high energy performance to both these masterworks that pair nicely in this program.

Steve Reich’s fairly short Duet for two violins and strings is not one of his best known works but – in typical Reich fashion – the mood is buoyant and there is plenty of canonic activity that, in the composer’s own mind, echoes Bach and, therefore, also fits the puzzle pieces of this program perfectly.

The two most fascinating works, though, are the closing two. Siamak Aghaei is an Iranian santur performer and composer who worked with Colin Jacobsen to create the Concerto for santur, violin and orchestra. This is a four- movement work which takes its inspiration and some of its movement titles from a blending of western and “middle Eastern” cultures, and the results are captivating. This is an exotic and beautiful work that results from a prior collaboration when both musicians were working with the Silk Road Ensemble.

To close things, we have the nearly impossible to describe The Ground Beneath Our Feet; a collaborative ‘composition’ by all the Knights. This really is more of an ‘improv’ session that, apparently, starts with a Ciaccona by the seventeenth-century Italian Tarquinio Merula and just “goes” from there including some sections that sound like reels, gypsy music, ragas and so forth. As I said, there is no good way to describe this but it well worth the listening.

That kind of holds true for this whole album. The Knights are an upbeat, very engaging and – from booklet photos – visually captivating ensemble. They have an unusual and very clever approach to programming and their playing is superb. I found this disc highly entertaining and I await the next one!

—Daniel Coombs

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