Navona Records (www.navonarecords.com) and its remarkable commitment to new music continues with the release of Blurred Boundaries, a collection of compositions, several influenced by non-western musical traditions and all six impressively played by the protean Apollo Chamber Players (www.apollochamberplayers.org)
The project, enhanced by its neat packaging and the limpid engineering of Navona Records’ team of engineers, Ryan Edwards and Shannon Smith, encompasses music dating from the turn of the 20th century to works of recent vintage.
The results are impressive, due in no small measure to the idiomatic, honest, bold and straightforward playing of the members of Apollo Chamber Players: violinists Matthew J. Detrick and Anabel Ramirez, violist Whitney Bullock, cellist Matthew Dudzik and their guest artists, Ismail Lumanovski, clarinet; Timothy Pitts, bass, and percussionist Matthew McClung.
Apollo Chamber Players’ multi-year commissioning project 20X2020, supported in part by the C. Howard Pieper Foundation made possible the creation of Libby Larsen’s Sorrow Song and Jubilee, Erberk Eryilmaz’s Thracian Airs of Besime Sultan, and Marty Regan’s Splash of Indigo.
The album opens with Sorrow Song and Jubilee, a six-minute, single movement, homage to Antonin Dvorak and Henry Thacker Burleigh by the American composer Libby Larsen. In it we hear Swing Low, Sweet Chariot replicated in a deconstructed manner, as if the melody, mostly assigned to the cello, were struggling to emerge through a densely textured counterpoint played by the violins and viola, only to emerge triumphant half-way through the piece in a Czech dance rhythm.
In each and every one of tracks 2 through 8 of the CD, the members of the string quartet mine for and find musical gold in the songs of rural America, as with Henry Thacker Burleigh’s 1901 Plantation Melodies Old and New introducing us to two lesser known pieces: Negro Lullaby and An Ante-Bellum Sermon.
Florence Beatrice Price’s 1951 Five Folk Songs in Counterpoint is alternatively moving (Calvary, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot), lively (Clementine, Shortnin’ Bread) and melancholy (Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes) and thoroughly enchanting in its unencumbered versions of familiar tunes long part of our musical DNA. The Apollo musicians play with a down-to-earth approach redolent of family evenings of music-making in the front porch of folks up in the Kentucky hills.
Erberk Eryilmaz’s Thracian Airs of Besime Sultan takes the listener into unfamiliar territory, with the string quartet now augmented by a bass, a clarinet and percussion that transform the sound of the ensemble into something altogether exotic and exhilarating, what with the composer and the musicians flirting with flatted intervals, poly-rhythms and woodwind riffs that would not be out of place in a Turkish wedding celebration.
Hajime Komatsu’s Four Japanese Folk Songs is eminently tonal, largely based on pentatonic scales and ranging from dance-like in Yagibushi to song-like in Naribu Oshioi Uta to playful in Otemoyan and exultant in the final Aizu Bandaisari.
Marty Regan’s Splash of Indigo is a musical depiction of the visual aspects of the ancient Japanese craft of Indigo design and dyeing. Replicating in a manner that blends Debussy-like gestures with Japanese scales, the nearly-twelve minute one-movement composition is unpredictable, rhapsodic, quiet and still to the point of stasis at times, precipitated and agitated at others, and altogether intriguingly original.
With this album, the Apollo Chamber Players make their mark as not only an ensemble of quality but as loyal supporters and players of new and innovative music. Kudos to them.
Rafael de Acha