Sunday, May 26, 2013

Newly heard: Russian accordions, and Spain rediscovered

In which the author attempts to revive the blog by posting briefly about the music he's been listening to over the past week.

When I was putting together my Top 20 of 2012 for Music is Good, I realised that part of the reason I didn't have a huge amount of 2012 releases to consider was that, because I based my purchases on magazine reviews, I was usually several months behind the times, and something I got "new" in, say, April had actually been released back in December. So, recently I said to myself, why don't I rely more on the New Releases list in IRR rather than waiting for reviews to come out, because actually a lot of the stuff I get, I get not because the review is good per se but simply because the review brings my attention to something that suits my tastes. The advice of reviewers tends to be useful mostly when considering repertoire choices. Thus, a New Era Dawns, and I look forward to being if not ahead of the curve, at least somewhere in the curve's vicinity. And hey, that means you might be too!

The Danish accordion duo Mythos have transcribed several Russian orchestral classics for their Orchid Classics release (link): Petrushka, In the Steppes of Central Asia, three bits from The Nutcracker, and Night on the Bare Mountain. The idea that this is merely a "novelty" release vanishes within a few seconds, because their version of the Stravinsky fits the music like a glove. You might easily convince the Hypothetical Naive Listener that Petrushka was originally written for accordion duo. The other pieces are perhaps more obviously transcriptions but I found it very easy to forget that I "should" be hearing an orchestra. Actually, come to think of it this is a genuine "novelty" release, in the sense that it's something brand new.

"Rediscovering Spain" is a collection of 16th- and 17th-century music from viola da gamba player Fahmi Alqhai and his ensemble Accademia del Piacere (Glossa: link). There's familiar tunes here - Gaspar Sanz's Canarios, Josquin's Mille regretz - but the "rediscovery" part of it is that these are "fantasías, diferencias and glosas", so what we're getting here is both old and new, with Alqhai getting composition/arrangement credit on many of the pieces. You get a full-bodied sound, tasteful percussion, and the occasional Middle Eastern tinge (Alqhai spent his first decade in Syria); there's also three vocal numbers. This album fits neatly on the same shelf as, say, Jordi Savall's "Ostinato" and Rolf Lislevand's "Diminuto".