This is the first in a series of short daily reviews of new releases leading up to Christmas:
Most of the music on the latest album by Toronto’s Amici Chamber Ensemble is not well known. But thanks to brilliant, affecting performances, there isn’t a single piece among the 10 works represented that doesn’t deserve our attention.
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The album’s title, Levant, suggests the Middle East, but in fact this music represents many different crossing and meeting points, like bridges and ferries crossing the Bosphorous. The album is released by Montreal label ATMA.
Some of the music represents the Middle East of the imagination, such as Alexander Glazounov’s Rêverie orientale or Sergei Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes (although the Hebrew melodies are authentic).
But the real meat of the record comes from the melding of genuine Eastern traditions with Western musical means. There is a stirring trip into the Balkans, thanks to Marko Tajcevic and several entrancing forays into Armenian and Arab traditions.
None of the pieces or arrangements is cloying or artificial. They stand as self-sufficient pieces of music, played with utter conviction by Amici core members Joaquin Valdepeñas (clarinet), Serouj Kradjian (piano) and David Hetherington (cello), augmented by violinists Benjamin Bowman and Stephen Sitarski and violist Steven Dann.
I particularly enjoyed the evocative Piano Trios by Armenian composer Gayané Chebotaryan and Iraqui-Syrian Solhi al-Wadi as well as Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov’s splashy reworking for solo piano of a chorus from his Pasión según San Marcos.
You’ll find all the details here.
Here is the fourth movement of al-Wadi’s Trio, as recorded by violinist Gloria Merani, cellist François Baduel and pianist Hamsa al-Wadi Juris in Damascus in 2008: