Catching my ear this week: a recent album from a cellist and scholar of Haitian art music, and an upcoming set of both Vivaldi’s and Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons” suites arranged for mandolin, accordion and chamber orchestra.
Diana Golden and Shawn Chang, Tanbou Kache
Cellist Diana Golden is a longtime scholar and champion of Haitian classical (or “art”) music. If you weren’t aware of such a tradition, you’re not alone. Tanbou Kache is a gorgeous collection of music by Haitian composers written or arranged for cello and piano or solo cello. Pianist Shawn Chang joins Golden in radiant performances of works by seven composers from Haiti or with Haitian roots who weave influences of that island country’s traditions into their modern works.
The styles vary, but the rhythms and imagery of Haitian folk music, drumming, and even dancing energize these works. Aside from Werner Jaegerhuber’s Bach-influenced Petite Suite for solo cello and two themed pieces by Jean “Rudy” Perrault, the music leans toward modernism. Listening to Carmen Brouard’s “Duo Sentimental,” Julio Racine’s arrangement of Frantz Casséus’ Suite haïtienne, and Racine’s own Sonate à Cynthia, a door opens wide that you may not have known existed. It reveals an enchanting world of modernist-romanticism.
A melancholy mood dominates, perhaps reflecting some of the tragedies that have befallen the island and its people, perhaps also the lament of the émigré. But it alerts us to a vital, highly developed creative spirit that has charged the imaginations of many talented musical minds through the 20th century and into the 21st.
Tanbou Kache is available from New Focus Recordings.
Jacob Reuven, Omer Meir Wellber: The Mandolin Seasons: Vivaldi and Piazzolla
Hearing Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in concert is almost a guaranteed thrill. One might legitimately ask how many more recordings of it we need, but even in studio tracks I often hear things I never heard before. Well, mandolinist Jacob Reuven (of Duo Mantar) and conductor-accordionist Omer Meir Wellber have joined forces with Sinfonietta Leipzig (members of the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig) on a new arrangement featuring their instruments. Paired with a similarly creative adaptation of Astor Piazzolla’s own Las cuatro estaciones porteñas, both recorded live in the studio, it makes for an album both accessible and truly new.
Unusual too is the track order. Each of Vivaldi’s concerti is followed by the corresponding Piazzolla season. That sets up surprising correlations, beyond Piazzolla’s actual Vivaldi quotes.
Where Vivaldi wrote musical representations of concrete seasonal sounds, Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires suggest the seasons abstractly. (The Buenos Aires “Summer,” for example, has no whining mosquitos or crackling barbecues, but the music sure feels sweaty.)
Here the mandolin mostly takes the place of Piazzolla’s signature bandoneón. The two instruments are radically different in timbre and attack. But there are connections. To modern ears both suggest folk music. And Reuven’s advanced techniques (including daring slides) and the modern craftsmanship of his mandolins enable the needed sustain and dynamics.
Reuven’s arrangements sound astonishingly natural. In the Vivaldi he assigns himself the task of negotiating most of the solo violin parts, tangled and difficult as some of them are. He does it with seeming ease.
Wellber’s accordion, meanwhile, settles for merging seamlessly with the strings in many places, but listen for his improvised continuo. And the instrument does stand out in some passages, as in the first two movements of Vivaldi’s “Summer” and the Allegro of “Autumn.” Naturally, the accordion also puts us in mind of its cousin the bandoneón – helping tie the composers together in a new and eye-opening way.
Cellist Moritz Klauk provides graceful soloing in Piazzolla’s “Autumn.” Piazzolla may not have played this “season” last when he performed his Four Seasons in sequence, but it’s a great album closer. It reveals Reuven’s full range on the mandolin. In his hands, the instrument suggests the banjo in its lowest register, the piano in its highest, and – thanks only in part to the power of suggestion – the bandoneón in the heart of its range.
The Mandolin Seasons: Vivaldi and Piazzolla is out May 6, 2022 on Hyperion Records.