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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The ARC Ensemble Continue Their Quest to Resurrect Neglected Jewish Composers

Canadian group the ARC Ensemble are in the midst of a heroic project, resurrecting music by underrated or undeservedly forgotten Jewish composers, Their latest album – streaming at Spotify – is the debut commercial recording of three works by Russian composer Dmitri Klebanov. Like all of his contemporaries in the Soviet era, his themes were circumscribed by Stalinist repression. There’s a sense of an inner modernist longing to cut through the doctrinaire Romanticism, and it’s rewarding to hear that fearlessness unleashed in so many places here.

String Quartet No. 4 opens as a swinging, folksy, wintry theme and variations. The second movement begins as a stark, windswept tableau, anchored by the lingering harmonies of cellist Thomas Wiebe and violist Steven Dann, violinists Erika Raum and Marie Bérard picking up the pace with a graceful counterpoint, growing more insistent, alternately joyous and stern.

Puckish pizzicato cedes to more of an autumnal dance in movement three, which continues and rises to a triumphant coda in the concluding movement. It’s an enjoyable if not particularly substantial piece.

There’s a similarly dancing quality but considerably more gravitas to Klebanov’s Piano Trio No. 2, which actually turns out to be much more of a work for strings. Pianist Kevin Ahfat provides a precise lilt in the first movement as Berard and Wiebe add wistful color, with close echoes of an iconic Rachmaninoff piece throughout. The three musicians light into the sudden, furtive interlude afterward with relish, violin cascades against mutedly assertive, rhythmic piano.

The trio have fun negotiating the tension between Beethovenesque glitter and a jagged Russian dance in the second movement. Movement three is the real stunner here, plaintive strings over tolling, low-key piano, rising to an aching waltz that grows more hypnotically troubled as the rhythm straightens out. Debussy visits Borodin on the steppes as the unsettled conclusion pounces along, somewhat hesitantly, Kudos to the ensemble for unearthing a piece that deserves to be vastly better known.

The four strings return to an assertive, martially-tinged Russian dance theme to introduce Klebanov’s considerably more adventurous String Quartet No. 5, with a meticulous, persistently uneasy counterpoint. It would be an overstatement to call the thematic development demonic, but a gremlin definitely could be involved.

There’s a Bartokian vividness and astringency in the second movement The third and final movement strongly brings to mind Shostakovich’s middle-period quartets, in terms of persistent grey-sky atmosphere and exchanges that darkly wind their way back to Haydn, all the way through the deviously jaunty ending. What a joy it is to discover music like this: it only makes you wonder what else this ensemble have up their collective sleeves.

September 28, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rare, Individualistic Indian-Inspired World Premieres from the ARC Ensemble

In recent years the ARC Ensemble have made an extraordinary commitment to rescuing the works of relatively unknown but brilliant Jewish composers from obscurity. The latest in their series is the world premiere recording of Chamber Works of Walter Kaufmann, streaming at Spotify. Kaufmann, born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1907, fled Prague for the seemingly unusual destination of Mumbai in 1933, just ahead of the Nazis.

The choice of Mumbai was more than just an attempt to find a safe haven: as a student, Kaufmann had fallen in love with Indian music, and that passion would eventually lead him to become one of the foremost European-born authorities on it. After almost a century, his 1936 violin piece based on Raga Shivaranjani remains Air India’s main theme.

This fearlessly individualistic album features string quartets as well as pieces for smaller and larger ensembles (Kaufmann also wrote symphonies and operatic works), all composed during Kaufmann’s time in India. The first work here, played by violinists Erika Raum and Marie Bérard, violist Steven Dann and cellist Thomas Wiebe, is the String Quartet No. 11. It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before. A somber cello drone anchors an enigmatic, whole-tone-centric raga melody that the quartet take dancing in the brief, five-minute opening movement.

The searching quality of the second movement is visceral; the wistfulness afterward evokes both Indian and Celtic music. The four musicians follow the warmly fleeting third movement to a triumphantly strutting coda.

Raum and pianist Kevin Ahfat open the Sonata No. 2, Op. 44 for Violin and Piano in the poignant netherworld where carnatic music meets the blues scale, and follow a much livelier tangent: listening to the tracks here in sequence, it becomes clear that Kaufmann doesn’t like to stay in one place very long. Ahfat’s motives ring sparely and spaciously behind Raum’s lyricism in the second movement; the two pick up the pace to bring the piece full circle.

String Quartet No. 7 is basically a raga for strings. It begins lustrously and more chromatically charged, with an uneasily bustling sway and clever echo effects that add unexpected Iranian flavor. The contrast between somber foreshadowing and shivery intensity in the second movement is intense; the stark third movement brings to mind Bartok if he had taken his recording rig across the Indian Ocean instead of the Mediterranean. The group wind it up with a jaunty, acerbic final two movements that Kaufmann manages to wrap up in one big, bouncy ball.

Ahfat and clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas play a clarinet arrangement of the Sonatina No. 12  for Violin and Piano, its broodingly hypnotic ambience punctuated by eerie chimes and more than a distant shadow of klezmer music. The two hit an unexpected romp and ending with a pastorale that’s the most distinctly European interlude here.

Violinist Jamie Kruspe and cellist Kimberly Jeong join Ahfat and the string quartet for the album’s concluding work, the Septet for Three Violins, Viola, Two Cellos, and Piano. Rimsky-Korsakovian glitter and phantasmagoria pulse through its dynamic shifts, the strings serving as rhythm section much of the time.

Kaufmann was an interesting guy, but sadly his early success in Europe did not springboard the same kind of acclaim elsewhere, and his father and many relatives were murdered by the Nazis. He composed for Bollywood and the radio; became the first conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony (and drew an impressive amount of European talent there); played piano alongside a promising violinist named Albert Einstein; and ended his career at the University of Indiana. Fans of pioneering cross-pollinators like the Brooklyn Raga Massive, and innovative violinists like Arun Ramamurthy and Trina Basu, will love this music.

August 28, 2020 Posted by | classical music, indian music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment