REVIEWS: divine art dda 25149   Concertato

CD cover

Some months ago, I reviewed Lydia Kakabadse's Cantica Sacra (Divine Art DDA 25135), which I described as ‘instantly enjoyable'. I therefore welcomed the opportunity to hear this CD. I mentioned then that Kakabadse was born in Southport, daughter of a Russian/Georgian father and Greek/Austrian mother, she is very much indebted to those origins. The present CD is interesting not least for its attention to timbres. All the pieces except Concertato (for cello and double bass) , are for an ensemble of single violin, viola, cello and double bass, joined in the Two Chamber Songs by the mezzo-soprano, Jess Dandy. This unusual quartet immediately creates a distinctive sound world, with a rich, lower-string sound. The music instantly has an originality of tone, and there are moments of particular beauty.

The opening work, The Coachman's Terror , is in five movements, and is based on the poem Devils by Pushkin. The title gives the essence of the poem, offering the possibilities for much atmospheric writing with a sense of imminent peril. The echoes of Russian music are strong throughout, and the sense of menace from unknown spirits is palpable in parts. It is music which is atmospheric and very tuneful. Dance Sketches is an interesting piece, again with strong contrasts. The three dances are, Arabian, a 17 th century-inspired stately court dance and then a dance for clockwork toys. Each offers the opportunity for both display and a range of instrumental colour.

The title piece, Concertato , could be considered a study in andante style. Each of the four movements is andante, one espressione , one legato , one con brio and the finale, energico . Each is technically demanding with many demands of the players, but overall this is not an exercise in virtuosity but a thoughtful and sometimes very moving work. The two chamber songs, one based on a poem by Emily Brontë, the other a setting of Edgar Allan Poe's Eldorado , are interesting pieces of word-setting, with a nice interplay between the singer and the four instruments. The inspiration for Cantus Planus is, like much of Kakabadse's music, religious, with each of the three movements representing different prayers of the day, Matins, Lauds and Vespers. The influence of medieval music is evident throughout. The final work, Recitativo Arioso + Variations , with its two variations is lyrical yet varied in mood.

Performances throughout are admirable, and there is tremendous pleasure to be gained from this music. More, please!
Michael Wilkinson

Lydia Kakabadse's Russian/Georgian as well as Greek/Austrian descent, enriched by Arabian and medieval ideas, give birth to a an inspiring music mix. The Ensemble ‘sound collective' as well as singer Jess Dandy prove committed and high-class performers.

In her quartet, the composer Lydia Kakabadse, who was born in England, replaced the second violin with a double bass. Overall, this deepest string instrument plays a special part in the program. The dark and substantial foundation of the sound opens up a special sound richness.

Another feature of her music is derived from her Russian / Georgian or Greek / Austrian ancestry, which she linked early in her life with both Greek and Russian Orthodox culture. Further cultural inspiration is derived from Arabic and medieval sources.

Five works are written for this string quartet with double bass, and there are two songs which also include a mezzo-soprano. The sixth piece is limited to the cello and double bass. It may be a guideline for this CD, since these two instruments have a concerted role in the baroque sense in all works. This rivalry of the largest and darkest strings will be described as a saber fight rather than as a light-footed fencer.

The whole CD has a uniform soundscape, which results from the mixture of old sounds like Renaissance and baroque and oriental moods. Both dynamic highlights and unexpected developments are sparing. The composer finds her very own enveloping and relaxing tone, which is delightful, with a mixture of Hildegard von Bingen, Arvo Pärt and Sufimusik. Or in other words, the salon music is given a touch of Orientalism.

The instrumentalists who have joined together as 'sound collective' bring this music to the ear of the listener with passion, refinement and love. Also the solo passages of the “saber fencers” are playfully relaxed and charming. The singer Jess Dandy presents her short contribution with pleasant harmony, without any misdirected pathos. In short, the presentation is a pleasure overall.
Uwe Krusch (translation by Stephen Sutton)

This charming album is already one of our favourites — a close second to Ensemble Villancico's Tambalagumba , in fact, but where Tambalagumba is merry South American early music with percussion, Concertato is the sight of sad man weeping softly into his mug of beer as he surveys the world. Both are equally approachable, despite one being Christmas music from 16th century Peruvians and the other gloomy string quartets (a classical version of Kate Rusby, come to think).

Kakabadse is British but has roots in Greece, Austria, Russia and Georgia, and it's the mixture of cultures that gives this its charm. We're currently reading a book on the Holocaust and the opener is the kind of sad music with a Jewish/Russian feel that would accompany a documentary on the camp, with long shots of black of white photos of sad people. It's actually called The Coachman's Terror , scored for violin, viola, cello and double bass and inspired by Alexandr Pushkin's poem Devils . It's set in a Russian winter and tells of a coachman driving a horsedrawn carriage through blizzard conditions amid swirling howling snows, “where heaven and night are blurred into one and evil spirits gather round the hapless stranded pair,” according to the sleeve notes. Obviously, it doesn't instil either the fear of a death camp or evil spirits in the listener, it's just pleasingly sad music with exotic overtones, and this sad exotica is the flavour of much of the album.

Dance Sketches , scored for violin, viola, cello and double bass, is made up of three diverse dances, Arabian Folk Dance (harmonic bareness, syncopated rhythms); Stately Court Dance (dignified, 4/4 meter) and Dance Of The Clockwork Toys (staccato). There's also a slight edginess about it all: the notes for the title track say Concertato originates from the Latin ‘concertator' meaning ‘rival' so while it's no dueling banjos, it sees instruments playing against each other, as well as challenging the players.

There is some variation: Spellbound is a setting of the poem of that name by Emily Bronte while Cantus Planus (plainsong) is inspired by medieval style music and in part, Greek Orthodox Church music. We mentioned soundtracks above and much of this has the instant appeal of film music; Matins from Cantus Planus would be ideal for the scenes after a medieval battle, for example.

The music comes from Sound Collective, a group of musicians that works with composers,writers and educators to build new ways of appreciating and promoting chamber music. They've certainly succeeded with this.
Jeremy Condliffe

These instantly accessible, genteel and well crafted works are inflected throughout by the composer's diverse ethnic origins, especially Greece, Georgia and Russia. Most of the works make extensive use of the middle-Eastern sounding double harmonic scale - i.e. the one containing two augmented intervals. The string quartet lineup, while used conventionally, is afforded additional depth of timbre by the substitution of contrabass for second violin. The five movement suite after Pushkin is a good deal less action-packed than the original poem; more melancholy winter landscape studies than depictions of pursuing nightmares in a blizzard, though the pieces are very atmospheric.

This air of sombre reflection, expressed in a melodic, neo-romantic vocabulary, pervades most of the works on the disc. Two works depart somewhat from this formula; the plainchant-evoking piece owes more to Greek Orthodox church music than the middle-eastern 'arabic scale', and the delightful Variations [sic – in fact Recitativo Arioso] sound like a transcription of a recitative and aria from a Mozart opera, with two ingeniously constructed variations. Minimalism puts in a brief appearance in one movement of Coachman, and Jazz in one of Concertato, but these are fleeting.

Lydia Kakabadse is a British composer who combines her Greek/Russian heritage with strong contrapuntal technique, and a devout interest in Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox liturgy choral traditions. This CD's works, composed from 2004 to 2016 utilize traditional harmonies and are melodic, tho' mildly to moderately sad. The images depicted are well described in the booklet. The Coachman's Terror is based on Pushkin's poem “Devils.” Dance Sketches (2011) are three diverse pieces: Arabic, courtly, and a study in staccato. The Concertato (2014) is a duet that seeks confrontation between the cello and double bass. Two Chamber Songs (2004; 2007) for mezzo-soprano and string quartet are set to a poem by Emily Dickinson (sic - actually Brontë) and Edgar Allan Poe, respectively. Cantus Planus (2011) is a plainsong whose three mvmts represent canonical hours of prayer. Recitativo Arioso + Variations (2012) is an adaptation of an earlier work, here set for the string quartet Kakabadse favors, with double bass. The piece displays the composer's ability to create counterpoint and color treatment of her lyrical idea.
Gary Lemco

Contrary to what her name might suggest, composer Lydia Kakabadse was born in England, but of Russio-Georgian and Austro-Greek parentage. Admired and well known in her home country, she is practically unknown here [in Italy] so this recording, which collects together several of her chamber works, is a useful calling card to introduce her in our country.

The works here boast styles recalling the musical traditions of the Middle East and Greece, especially in regard to popular dances (such as Dance Sketches , which like most works here is for violin, viola, cello and double bass). However there are also occasional flashes of the minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and they show great attention to spirituality that is explicit in Cantus Planus , and forms a sort of organic root. These works are relatively simple harmonically and melodically (and to a certain extent repetitive in nature) and are also suitable for enjoying as background.

There is nothing to criticize of the interpretation by the four members of Sound Collective or the mezzo-soprano Jess Dandy, given of course the ease of their approach and commitment.

The recording was made in the church (not cathedral) of St. Paul by Michael Ponder. Spatially, reproduction is good with an airy, fast sound for this deep quartet. Good dynamics, based largely on microdynamics as well as other audio parameters.

Overall technical quality 4.
Andrea Bedetti