The Compact Collection  

Rob Cowan on the week's best CD releases
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The Independent Culture

Tapping world music as an inspirational source is thought by some to be a relatively new idea, a useful habit formed while the Global Village was taking shape. But it started much earlier than that. Bartok was a prime mover in terms of Eastern European and Arabic musics; George Enescu mined his Romanian folk heritage for material, and there's Luciano Berio, whose fascination with folk material has spawned many a striking masterpiece. Voci (or "Folk Songs II") took its prompt from Sicilian folk music, and if you listen to ECM's new recording with violist Kim Kashkashian you can skip forwards to actual archive folk recordings from the early 1960s.

You can witness for yourself the raw, grating sonorities – including strangely dissonant bagpipes – that fired Berio's imagination. Voci's folk tunes are voices in a peopled wilderness that either collaborate with, or disengage from, a delicate but busy musical backdrop. At times, Kashkashian's tone apes the hoarseness of an ageing folk singer, while other passages are warmly mellifluous, even sensual. By contrast, Naturale has the solo viola take on a line-up of percussion (Robyn Schulkowsky) and a distantly balanced folk singer. I don't think I've ever heard a better recorded viola, while the singleness of musical purpose shared by Kashkashian and the Vienna Radio Symphony under Dennis Russell Davies helps to focus and contextualise each tiny strand in Berio's scoring. It makes for a fascinating listen.

The late Leonard Salzédo's Seventh String Quartet quotes from another ancient heritage, namely the Sephardic Jews, whose Synagogue services incorporate a soulful melody that many years ago Salzedo's string-playing father used to perform at home. Salzédo's musical memorial was a long time in the making but worth the trouble, especially in the slow movement, where the quotation occurs and where the Archaeus Quartet's cellist Martin Thomas helps conjure a precious and moving evocation (Salzédo apparently loved their performance). The rest of this valuable Dutton CD is given over to the Second Quartet and the Sonata for Violin and Viola. It's tensely argued music, skilfully constructed by a man who had an intimate working knowledge of the instruments he was writing for – and who most of us know for a single musical fragment: the Open University theme!

Salzédo's quartets come as a single instalment from a new batch of Dutton's brave and enterprising mid-price Epoch CDs. Other discs in the series include a coupling of Cyril Scott's Fauré-like Piano Quartet and Quintet by the London Piano Quartet, some flamboyant and tuneful chamber music by York Bowen played by the Endymion Ensemble (including a notably attractive Horn Quintet), and the Dante Quartet's disc of Rubbra string quartets. The Dante programmes Quartets Nos 2 and 4, both works featuring extremely beautiful slow movements.

But perhaps the most memorable piece on the disc is scored for two violas. It's Rubbra's Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn, tightly written and incorporating attractive archaic resonances. As the booklet writer suggests, it's ripe for rediscovery by a generation that appreciates the value of old wine in new bottles.

Berio: Voci; Naturale – Kim Kashkashian, Robyn Schulkowsky, Vienna RSO, Dennis Russell Davies (ECM New Series 1735)

Salzedo: String Quartets Nos 2 and 7/Sonata for Violin and Viola – Archaeus Quartet (Dutton CDLX 7113)

Scott: Piano Quartet and Quintet – London Piano Quartet (Dutton CDLX 7116)

Bowen: Horn Quintet/Trio in Three Movements/Rhapsody Trio – Endymion Ensemble (Dutton CDLX 7115)

Rubbra: String Quartets Nos 2 and 4/Lyric Movement/ Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn – Dante Quartet (Dutton CDLX 7114)