“Blurred Boundaries” = Contemporary works by Libby Larsen and others – Navona

by | Apr 9, 2016 | Classical CD Reviews

“Blurred Boundaries” = LIBBY LARSEN: Sorrow Song and Jubilee; HENRY THACKER BURLEIGH: Plantation Melodies, Old and New; FLORENCE BEATRICE PRICE: Five Folksongs in Counterpoint; ERBERK ERYLIMAZ: Thracian Airs of Besime Sultan; HAJIME KOMATSU: Four Japanese Folk Songs; MARTY REGAN: Splash of Indigo – Apollo Ch. Players (Matthew Detrick, violin/Anabel Ramirez, violin/Whitney Bullock, viola/Matthew Dudzik, cello with Ismail Lumanovski, clarinet/Timothy Pitts, bass/Matthew McClung, percussion)– Navona Records NV6038, 69:45 [Distr. by  Naxos] (4/08/16) ****:

Lovely collection of folk inspired works by some new names.

B01CUUF5AC The Apollo Chamber Players is, basically, a young and quite talented string quartet plus guests. Their playing is magnificent and their ideas in programming are fascinating. In this, their latest Navona release Blurred Boundaries, we hear commissioned works from the great ‘veteran’ American composers Libby Larsen and Marty Regan, as well as from the winner of Apollo’s inaugural International Commissioning Contest, Turkish composer Erberk Eryilmaz. These three commissions mark the beginning of “20 x 2020”, Apollo’s initiative to commission 20 new folk music-inspired works by the end of the decade.

This seems like a terrific idea and, based on this release, the results will be outstanding. It would be a mistake for any prospective listener to dismiss this before hearing as ‘just more modern music’; for the works by brilliant, living composers herein are – after all – inspired by folk melodies from America, ancient Thrace and Japan. This music is all lovely, approachable and makes for wonderful listening without having to sit there and try to decipher convoluted rhythms and harmonies.

For example, Larsen’s Sorrow Song and Jubilee takes the fact of Antonin Dvorák’s love of African-American sorrow songs (as in his Symphony No. 9, “From the New World”), and spins an homage to the creative partnership of African-American composer Henry T. Burleigh and Dvorák. In fact, we get a really nice arrangement of two of Burleigh’s own treatment of traditional Negro spirituals; the Plantation Melodies, which are quite lovely. For me, Libby Larsen was the one name I was familiar with. I have heard and played many of her works before and greatly enjoy it all.

On this recording, these two works lead very well into the Five Folksongs in Counterpoint by Florence Beatrice Price, another straight forward but rewarding take on some very familiar melodies, such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

The programming takes a very interesting turn with the Turkish- inspired Thracian Airs of Besime Sultan. This is essentially a combo piece for strings, percussion and clarinet – played here with authentic verve by Ismail Lumanovski. The clarinetist in me loved this piece!  I have enjoyed ethnic clarinet works and this is a very exciting and compelling work by the excellent Pittsburgh based Turkish composer Erberk Eryilmaz. The music comes from Balkan melodies and is dedicated to the composer’s late grandmother. I need to seek out the music to this one!

The program closes with two Japanese inspired works. Hajime Komatsu’s Four Japanese Folksongs is similar to Price’s Five Folksongs in that we get a suite of traditional Japanese folk melodies that sound beautiful and evocative. Marty Regan’s Splash of Indigo intertwines Japanese folksong and French Impressionist music in a very rewarding way.

This is a very nice album that inspires repeated listening. As I mentioned, I knew the music of Libby Larsen very well but the other names were brand new and most gratifying for me. This is truly lovely music played exceptionally well by the adventurous and gifted young ensemble. Highly recommended!

—Daniel Coombs

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