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Gabriela Lena Frank: Compadrazgo / Ensemble Meme

Frank / Ensemble Meme
Release Date: 11/12/2013 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1449   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Gabriela Lena Frank
Performer:  Molly MorkoskiBarry CrawfordMichael NorsworthyLiuh-Wen Ting,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

FRANK Sonata Andina. 1 Sueños de Chambi: Snapshots for an Andean Album. 1,2 Canto de Harawi: “Amadeoso.” 1-3 Tres Homenajes: Compadrazgo 4 1 Molly Moroski (pn); 2 Barry Crawford (fl); 3 Michael Norsworthy (cl); Read more 4 Ens Meme ALBANY 1449 (76:05)

This CD of music by Gabriela Lena Frank (b. 1972), titled Compadrazgo , is the type I like to call “out there.” It’s composed, one imagines, on the precipice of the composer’s mind and creative faculties, reaching both inward and outward towards models and inspirations that seem to gestate inside and come out in an almost spontaneous burst of creativity. Frank’s Sonata Andina, inspired by “my first (mind-blowing) trip to Peru,” the first movement suggesting “drums from southern Peru and Bolivia (such as the large tambor, the medium wuankara, and the smaller tinya) and flutes.” Restless energy in time-splitting meters dominate this movement, the piano rumbling and thumping its way through the music. The second movement, titled “Himno Inca,” includes hand clapping by the pianist-performer, and almost seems minimalist in structure. The “Adagio Illariy” refers “to the light outlining the edge of the planet as it curves out of sight just before the sun ascends or descends,” and the last movement, “Saqsampillo,” is “an imagined dance” of an energetic jungle dweller. Pianist Moroski plays all of this music with stupendous energy and remarkable color. Here, as elsewhere on this CD, all of the solo instrumentalists are also members of the Ensemble Meme.

Sueños de Chambi, subtitled Snapshots for an Andean Album, is likewise rife with musical references to that region of the world. Here, the rumbling piano lines are contrasted with alternating lyrical and astringent lines played by the flute, and yet again Frank shows a fascinating penchant for merging the two musical worlds. Each of the seven pieces within this suite has its own unique character, however, and each one is interestingly broken up into smaller pieces that somehow, miraculously, converge into a unified musical statement. Frank’s musical eclecticism sounds startling at first, particularly foreign to North American (and, I would imagine, to Anglo-Saxon) ears, unless one is descended from this ethnic ancestry, but allowing yourself to simply open up and soak the music in pays high dividends. Not to put too fine a point on it, but her music almost sounds as if it “fell together” on its own. In a way, it sounds like a South American fusion equivalent of the Eastern European/Klezmer-influenced music of flautist Abby Rabinowitz. This is especially evident in the last piece of this suite, “Marinera,” which has a motor rhythm and syncopation not very far from jazz!

Frank claims that the Canto de Harawi was inspired “by an active dream life in my childhood that I’ve sought to reclaim, with varying levels of success, as an adult.” This one was inspired by a dream where she walked hand in hand with Mozart through “my old backyard garden, a deserted playground, and an ominous cavern that frightened me during a family camping trip.” The music, though not very Mozartean, does have strange and ominous overtones after a calm but minor-mode opening for the solo flute. Much of Frank’s writing for these two high wind instruments is in their lower ranges, suggesting further dark moods as the piece progresses. Even the quiet, still ending of the piece, played in the chalumeau register by the solo clarinet, has more a feeling of unease than resolution.

The final piano quintet, Compadrazgo , returns us to the restless energy and ambiguous rhythmic patterns of the opening piano sonata, only with more texture to work with. By and large, Frank uses the string quartet in the first movement more like sections in a small orchestra than as a unit, assigning specific effects to each of the four instruments in turn. Thus this is the kind of piece that is more mood-evoking than interactive in the manner of most Classical piano quintets, using sharply snapped strings to reinforce the work’s rhythms and oddly-placed glissandos upward to suggest kinetic energy. Within her concept the piano part, though exceptionally busy, acts more as an ostinato instrument. In the second movement her aesthetic reverses: here the strings play more together, essentially weeping sad, strange chords very softly while it is the piano’s turn to interject dissonant commentary. As the low clarinet came to dominate Canto de Harawi, so here it is the solo cello that darkly colors portions of this movement. A restless outburst is featured in the movement’s center. The last movement, like the second movement of the piano sonata, features slapping or hitting sounds, inspired by “an oddly violent form of compradzango where people from two different communities ritualistically engage in a fight,” which in turn stems from pre-Colombian beliefs “where young men fought to the death.”

There is no question that the music on Compadrazgo is strange and challenging to Western, non-South American ears, but if you are open to new experiences I think you’ll find it opens new doors to your mind.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Sonata Andina by Gabriela Lena Frank
Performer:  Molly Morkoski (Piano)
Sueños de Chambi: Snapshots for an Andean Album by Gabriela Lena Frank
Performer:  Molly Morkoski (Piano), Barry Crawford (Flute)
Canto de Harawi: Amadeoso by Gabriela Lena Frank
Performer:  Barry Crawford (Flute), Molly Morkoski (Piano), Michael Norsworthy (Clarinet)
Tres Homanajes: Compadrazgo by Gabriela Lena Frank
Performer:  Liuh-Wen Ting (Viola), Harumi Rhodes (Violin), Molly Morkoski (Piano),
Austin Hartman (Violin), Caroline Stinson (Cello)

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