Kronos Quartet Floodplain Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

A disc that stretches, excites and inspires the senses.

Charlotte Gardner 2009

It feels like a bit of a cheat to kick off a review by quoting someone else, but this particular quote is rather apt. David Harrington, the Kronos' artistic director and founder, once said, ''I've always wanted the string quartet to be vital, and energetic, and alive, and cool, and not afraid to kick ass… But it has to be expressive of life. To tell the story with grace and humour and depth''. With Floodplain, the Kronos Quartet has done all the above. Once again, they've pushed boundaries to produce a disc that stretches, excites and inspires the senses.

The album title refers to the fertile, flood-prone strips of land bordering rivers. The idea is that floodplains experience new life after the catastrophe of flooding, just as cultures that undergo great difficulty will experience creative fertility. Certainly, the countries represented here, from the Middle East, South Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, have all endured more than their fair share of hardship, and the music frequently reflects this. Emotion is at its most raw; one senses anger, sorrow and wounds not yet healed, and this is certainly true for the disc’s two newly commissioned works. The first of these, the edgy, unsettled Tashweesh, is by the Palestinian hip hop group, Ramallah Underground, who David Harrington discovered through myspaceIran. The second, Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalovs ''…hold me, neighbor, in this storm… '', is a dignified, contemplative hymn that whips itself up into an angry, whirling climactic frenzy. There are also traditional arrangements of works from Lebanon, Turkey and Iran, contemporary interpretations of classical music from Azerbaijan and India, and popular music from 1940s Egypt and 1970s Iraq. The quartet are joined in a hauntingly beautiful performance of the Azerbaijani folkloric love song, Getme, Getme, by one of Azerbaijan's most celebrated performers of the country’s improvisational mugham singing, Alim Qasimov, and his ensemble.

Full marks to the Kronos Quartet for championing countries more known in the West for their instability than for their rich musical cultures. It’s the vibrant musical performances though, saturated with humanity, pathos and soul, which give this disc its edge.

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