Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Angela and Jennifer Chun Build a Captivating Suite from Bartok Etudes

The tendency is to ignore a composer’s practice pieces. Sometimes that’s a mistake. The Bach Clavierubung is a goldmine of obscure treasures, the Schumann etudes transcend the genre as they grow more cruelly difficult – and let’s not forget old Fur Elise. In the early 1930s, at the suggestion of a colleague, Bela Bartok decided to take many of the Eastern European folk themes he’d collected over the years and turn them into a series of etudes. His agenda: to further his own cause and get the kids playing bitonalities, atonalities and the astringencies found here which are often more Bartokian than Balkan. Violinists Angela and Jennifer Chun have artfully assembled them as a suite, making for segues that are literally seamless: most of these brief, barely minute-long miniatures blend together. Likewise, their playing is seamless: the two violins often literally join together as one, which might not seem so remarkable considering that the Chuns are sisters.

The melodies are austere, plaintive and often poignant: for the most part, the violins set a steady pace and keep it going. Dances often sound more like marches; the most memorable of the wedding songs here would make a more appropriate theme for a divorce. The most vivid of the traditional themes here include a deliciously fast, chromatically-fueled Ruthenian dance; a Transylvanian theme which disquietingly shifts from the Arabic hijaz scale to hypnotic major-key ambience; a brief, evocative “mosquito dance,” a rather macabre “counting song,” and an eerie Romanian dance tune that’s more closely related to Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring than might seem possible. A whirling bagpipe theme over steady pedalpoint resonates equally well, along with a distantly anguished Hungarian march and a couple of original themes that Bartok snuck in here: a “burlesque” melody that’s more scary than seductive, and a bucolic, atmospheric harvest passage that works as a tone poem (or a tone couplet – it’s over just a handful of bars after it begins). The quieter material here tends to be more brooding and acidic, with the exception of a couple of amusing interludes like one of the “teasing songs” and a handful of blithe dance themes. This one’s out now on Harmonia Mundi.

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December 5, 2010 Posted by | classical music, folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Bosnian Emerald Gleams in the Dark

In Bosnia, the title of singer Amira Medunjanin and accordionist Merima Kljuco’s new album Zumra means “emerald,” which is a double entendre: it has a nonconformist connotation. Together the two musicians offer a new approach to a wide variety of traditional folk songs from the region, alternating between terse, starkly intense arrangements and more avant-garde interpretations. The group they most closely resemble is innovative Balkan/Appalachian vocal duo Æ, substituting Medunjanin’s stagy, operatic, traditional delivery for Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker’s otherworldly, primal intensity. Most interestingly, Kljuco’s accordion goes a lot further out than Medunjanin’s voice, firing off bracing, whistling overtones, breathless staccato passages and crashing waves of atonalities along with menacing chromatic runs and cadenzas that contrast with an eerie stillness. The songs are strung together as something of a suite: if you don’t speak the language or aren’t paying attention to beginnings and endings, you can get completely lost in this. It’s a brooding, beautifully atmospheric album.

The songs evoke a difficult and war-torn past. People long for home and lovers can’t consummate anything because of differences in their religion – in fact many of these songs concern people who go mad with love because society won’t let them have what they want. Kljuco meanders her way sadly through a gracefully ornamented, rubato solo instrumental of Svedah, a song from the 1920s, a bitter account of wartime destruction. The duo harrowingly deliver a metaphorically charged tale of a mother ripping out her child’s heart, white noise of the accordion quietly panting with understated anguish. The album winds up with a love song to a nonconformist – the best kind – and a Bosnian Sephardic song sung in Ladino, a vivid illustration of the kind of cultural cross-pollination that went on in their part of the world despite centuries of repression. It’s out now on World Village Music.

July 20, 2010 Posted by | folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment