“Scrapyard Exotica” = MASON BATES: Bagatelles for String Quartet and Electronica; KEN UENO: Peradam; MOHAMMED FAIROUZ: The Named Angels – Del Sol String Q. – Sono Luminus (audio-only Blu-ray + CD)

“Scrapyard Exotica” = MASON BATES: Bagatelles for String Quartet and Electronica; KEN UENO: Peradam; MOHAMMED FAIROUZ: The Named Angels – Del Sol String Quartet – Sono Luminus DSL-921934, CD + Blu-ray 5.1 DTS-HD, 64:04, (9/02/15) [Dist. by Naxos] ****:

“Scrapyard Exotica” is Del Sol String Quartet’s third full studio album from Sono Luminus. The composers featured on this album represent some very prominent names in the contemporary new music scene and yet represent very different types of music within the ‘modern classical’ genre.

This collection begins with Mason Bates’ Bagatelles for String Quartet and Electronica, which was made in collaboration with Del Sol by playing with new sounds in the studio. Bates, a widely performed musician and presently Composer-in-Residence at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, regularly employs electronic samplings typically as a percussive element. In this case the samples are of the quartet itself. I always enjoy Bates’ music and find his blend of a jazz-pop-inspired rhythmic core with some very traditional acoustic sources always interesting to listen to. The movement to his Bagatelles are titled, somewhat coyly, “Rough Math; Scrapyard Exotica; On a Wire, Mating Dance; and Viscera.” This is a very entertaining work and my one complaint is that in a couple of the movements the ‘electronica’ nearly drowns out the acoustical quartet. Still another very nice work from this important voice.

Ken Ueno’s Peradam is a 21-minute single movement work. A “peradam” is an object that exists only when sought — a philosophical knot of a concept; it is the invention of René Daumal in his novel “Mount Analogue” and describes a diamond-like gem found by seekers. Ueno is composer, vocalist, and sound innovator, a professor at University of California, Berkeley. This piece calls upon the musicians to vocalise as well and particularly violinist Charlton Lee to perform pseudo throat-singing. I have to honestly say that I found this piece quite interesting but just not fully in my taste. It is pretty abstract and not easy to listen to; challenging to be sure.

New Yorker Mohammed Fairouz is already one of my favorite of the younger and quite talented “new wave” of composers. Fairouz often uses Middle Eastern religious tradition, history and musical idioms as inspiration. His music is always engaging and moving and more often than not suggests a pan-cultural commonality that is not always practiced in the political world. The Named Angels, in its four sections, refers to the angels in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic writings. “Mikhail’s Thunder” (the angel Michael) has some prominent Middle Eastern musical themes. “Azrael” (Angel of Death or Malak al-Maut), includes a soft, lyrical funeral-like passage and “Jibreel at Hira” (Gabriel, the messenger, and Hira being the cave where Mohammed becomes able to read) is a whirlwind which sounds a bit like traditional Jewish Hassidic music. “Israfel’s (Uriel) Spell” takes its title from a passage in Poe’s poem on Israfel and uses an Arabian dance form. I am a big fan of Fairouz’s music as well as his ideology and this was, for several reasons, my favorite work in this set.

Sono Luminus typically packages a CD and a Blu-ray that includes digital versions of both and a superb sound quality. It is a cutting edge and important label, here including some extremely interesting pieces (including the Ueno)  I think string players would really admire the technical strength and artistic vision of the Del Sol Quartet and new music fans have much to admire here as well.

—Daniel Coombs

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