Jean-Guihen Queyras and friends, Wigmore Hall, London, review: They are all dab hands at cross-cultural jamming

The French cellist Queyras performs with Sokratis Sinopoulos, master of the Byzantine lyra, and percussionists Bijan and Keyvan Chemirani playing the zarb 

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The Independent Culture

Zarb, dayereh, lyra, cello – you couldn’t get a more incongruous-seeming instrumental line-up on stage than the one Jean-Guihen Queyras and his friends Sokratis Sinopoulos, and Bijam and Keyvan Chemirani offered in the Wigmore’s latest foray into cross-cultural programming. The lyra is a tiny bowed lute with a penetratingly nasal sound which hails from Byzantine times and is native to Crete, and it’s in every way the absolute antithesis of the cello; the zarb goblet drum and dayereh frame drum are Iran’s staple percussion instruments. But Queyras and co are all dab hands at cross-cultural jamming, and did so here to brilliant effect.

The programme was chosen partly to show possible parallels between avant-garde European music and traditional music of the eastern Mediterranean, but there was less correspondence than might have been hoped: Lutoslawski, Kurtag and Stroppa remained obstinately separate and sealed off, when placed alongside improvisations in Greek, Turkish, and Iranian folk styles. But that didn’t matter: those improvisations were so beguiling and so gloriously freewheeling that one gladly sacrificed European expectations to savour to the full this feast of virtuosity. All these musicians are stars, but there was one extra star hovering unseen over the proceedings: Ross Daly, Norfolk-born but self-exiled for life to Crete, where he has become the world authority on the lyra, and a prolific composer for it.

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