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Sonia Wieder-Atherton Chants D'Est Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Its orientation isn't as folkloric as initial impressions might suggest.

Martin Longley 2009

It's impossible to avoid an aura of profound mournfulness, once Sonia Wieder-Atherton embarks on her mission of music-gathering from Central and Eastern Europe. The Sinfonia Varsovia, from Warsaw, provides a highly sensitive surround here, for what is essentially a cello showcase. The album is subtitled Songs from Slavic Lands, but its orientation isn't as folkloric as initial impressions might suggest. Traditional sounds are filtered through the studied compositional process, with the repertoire including works by Rachmaninov, Dohnányi, Prokofiev, Martinů and Mahler. A living composer, Franck Krawczyk, provides the longest work, as a midway centrepiece. There is also a pair of traditional Jewish songs to further broaden the palette.

The separate pieces are invariably episodic, but gradually make up a woven whole as they progress, building up a pseudo-suite of compatible atmospheres. Wieder-Atherton's sonorous tone always lies at the heart, her romantic flourishes taming an imagined gypsy wildness, slowing its expression down to an introverted hover. These songs might not feature any actual vocals, but the cello takes on a suitably singing role throughout. Alexander Tcherepnin's Tatar Dance is frustratingly brief, failing to hit three minutes, but it acts as a bridge into Franck Krawczyk's seven-part Jeux D'Infants. The composer might be barely 40 years old, but this work is completely in keeping with the older pieces that surround it, turning into a harrumphing waddle for oboe and clarinet, introducing theatrical percussion that suggests a tumbling clown. In a sudden schizophrenic switch, it develops a sincere sadness which marches on into Prokofiev's Field of the Dead.

Martinů's Variations on a Slovak Folksong provide the album's second extended section, once again passing through a variety of humours. Mahler follows, still morose, but with hope for the new dawning. Then, there's a short dervish romp to conclude, with another Jewish traditional dance tune.

Fingers are left itching for the next turntable selection, which has to be a double session with Taraf De Haïdouks and the Terem Quartet.

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