New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Daniel Bernard Roumain

Diana Golden and Shawn Chang Resurrect Rare Haitian Gems For Cello and Piano

One of the very few positive developments to come out of the era of western imperialism was the spread of classical music around the globe. One of the most fascinating and lyrical albums of chamber music from over the past several months is cellist Diana Golden and pianist Shawn Chang’s collection of works by Haitiian composers, Tanbou Kache, streaming at Bandcamp.

The title means “hidden drum” in kreyol. Just as the clave is ubiquitous in latin music, the vodou drum rhythm – a similarly African import – persists in much of Haitian music, whether outright or implied. As is the case with many global traditions where the culture has been repressed by tyrannical regimes, Haitian popular song is ripe with signification and subtle political subtext. How much of that translates to the compositions here?

As you might imagine from the instrumentation, much of this is on the somber side. The duo open with early 20th century composer Justin Élie’s Légende Créole, a disquieted neoromantic piece originally for violin and piano with a fleetingly blithe interlude midway through. Golden takes her time expressively with the chromatics and minor-key solemnity of Werner Jaegerhuber’s Petite Suite for Solo Cello. While it’s another early 20th century work, it draws a straight line back to Bach, in terms of melody if not thematic development.

Contemporary composer Julio Racine’s arrangement of 20th century classical guitarist Frantz Casséus’ Suite Haïtienne makes a return to sober, spacious minor-key neoromanticism with dark folk tinges in the opening movement. Golden and Chang wistfully parse the second movement before Chang picks up with a merengue-inspired bounce in the third and in the vigorous conclusion, originally a hit for Harry Belafonte with the composer on guitar.

Carmen Brouard, one of the prime movers in 20th century Haitian composition, died at 96 in 2005. Sadly, it wasn’t until she moved to Montreal that she began to earn recognition beyond the land of her birth. Her Duo Sentimental, a song without words, alternates between a distantly acerbic, dancing anthemic sensibiilty and Brahmsian familiarity.

Julio Racine is represented by his Sonate à Cynthia, written in 2014 and the most recent piece here. The simmering, Piazzolla-esque passion of the opening movement gives Chang a welcome moment to come to the forefront, while Golden’s plaintive phrasing takes over at the end. The second has a broodingly chromatic, anthemic sway; Golden’s trills fuel the coda at the end. It’s arguably the album’s most memorable work.

The duo follow with a moody, minimalist, bluesy Daniel Bernard Roumain miniature and conclude the record with two works by another contemporary composer, Jean “Rudy” Perrault. Still Around, for solo cello has more distant Bach echoes than the first solo cello piece here.

Brother Malcolm… for cello and piano imagines Martin Luther King and Malcolm X discussing Barack Obama’s inauguration via a sternly crescendoing, Romantic trajectory, and what seems like very guarded triumph.

Beyond the sheer emotional impact of the music, this album has enormous historical value. If the rest of the Haitian classical repertoire is anything like this, it should be vastly better known.

A Lushly Kinetic Album and a Chelsea Show by Inventive String Quintet Sybarite5

String quintet Sybarite5’s imaginative instrumental reinventions of Radiohead songs earned them worldwide acclaim, but their Thom Yorke fixation is only part of the picture. On their latest album, Outliers – streaming at Bandcamp – they bring their signature lush, kinetic sound to a collection of relatively brief, energetically balletesque pieces by some of their favorite indie classical composers. The result is part contemporary dance soundtrack, part 21st century chamber music: the connecting thread is tunefulness. They’re bringing that blend to a show at the Cell Theatre on Dec 7 at 8 PM; cover is $27.

The album opens with the catchy, punchily circling Getting Home (I must be…), by Jessica Meyer, the violins of Sami Merdinian and Sarah Whitney bustling tightly alongside Angela Pickett’s viola, Laura Metcalf’s cello and Louis Levitt’s bass.

Yann’s Flight, by Shawn Conley vividly echoes Philip Glass’ work for string quartet, right down to the dancing pizzicato from the bass and the cello’s stern counterpoint. As the group build the piece, hints of an Irish reel contrast with stillness, then more triumphantly rhythmic images of flight.

Eric Byers’ Pop Rocks is a playful, coyly bouncing staccato web of cell-like, Glassine phrasing. Dan Visconti’s triptych Hitchhiker’s Tales begins with the alternating slow swoops and momentary flickers of Black Bend, slowly morphing into a majestic blues with some snazzy, slithery, shivery work from the violins. The considerably shorter Dixie Twang gives the group a launching pad for icepick pizzicato phrasing, followed by another miniature, Pedal to the Metal, where they scamper together to the finish line.

They dig into the punchy, polyrhythmic scattato of Revolve, by Andy Akiho, with considerable relish; Levitt’s understated, modal bassline anchors the lithe theme, the violins eventually rising to a whirlwind of blues riffage. Mohammed Fairouz’s Muqqadamah, which follows, is the most pensive, airy, baroque-flavored track here.

The rest of the album is inspired by dance styles from around the world and across the centuries. The band expand deviously from a stark, wickedly catchy 19th century minor-key blues theme in Kenji Bunch’s Allemande pour Tout le Monde. Daniel Bernard Roumain’s Kompa for Toussaint also builds out of a minor-key oldtime blues riff to some neat, microtonal hints of a famous Nordic theme, then an enigmatic mist. Sarabande, another Byers piece, slowly emerges from and then returns to a wistful spaciousness.

The album’s most shapeshiftingly catchy track, Michi Wiancko’s Blue Bourée blends blues, the baroque and a little funk. The final number is Gi-gue-ly, by cinematic violist/composer Ljova, a delicious, Balkan-inflected, trickily syncopated tune that grows to pulsing misterioso groove. It’s a party in a box, probably the last thing a lot of people would expect from a contemporary classical string ensemble.