United Strings of Europe’s Renewal

Renewal (BIS-2549) is United Strings of Europe’s second release – soon to be out in January of 2022- is the first I have ever had the pleasure of hearing.     

The title of this BIS album by the London-based ensemble implies on one level that all but one of the works it includes are arranged by Julian Azkoul, first violinist and director of the group. But renewal can also be taken to mean a process of refreshing rediscovery, which this recording is.

In Winter’s House by Joanna Marsh and Caroline Shaw’s and the swallow are both originally choral works while Shaw’s Entr’acte, was written for string quartet, but is here heard in the composer’s own version for string orchestra.

Joanna Marsh’s In Winter’s House is set to mysterious, somewhat arcane, lyrical, modal-inflected, amply melodic music that often evokes sounds from centuries ago.

Caroline Shaw’s and the swallow and Entr’acte are both written in an enticingly melodic language that does not restrict the composer from occasional forays into spicy dissonance and minimalistic passages.

Mendelssohn’s F minor String Quartet, one of the composer’s final works, written in reaction to the unexpected death of his beloved sister Fanny, and three months before his own passing is here adapted for string orchestra and heard in an emotionally compelling performance that brings out the composer’s distraught response to the inevitability of death.

Osvaldo Golijov’s Three Songs, are also heard here for the first time with string orchestra accompaniment.

They are sung here by the wonderful soprano Ruby Hughes, an artist with an endless assortment of vocal colors and a flawlessly instrumental technique.

Night of the Flying Horses starts as an unaccompanied lullaby that soon develops into a Romani Doina that in turn builds into agitated music that depicts the flight of fantastical winged horses.

In Rosalia de Castro’s poem Lúa descolorida (Discolored Moon), written in the language of the Galician people, a desolate soul addresses the moon to haunting music by Golijov: If you know where Death has its dark dwelling, tell her to carry me body and soul as one to the place where no one will ever remember neither this world where I am nor the one above me.

How slow the wind a gentle poem by Emily Dickinson brings a felicitous closure to this incomparable, inky-dark song group.

Rafael de Acha      ALL ABOUT THE ARTS