Floodplain

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COMPOSERS: Azerbaijan (Rustamov; Asadollahi),India (Narayan),Iran (Trad.),Iraq (Anon.),Lebanon (Trad.),Music by composers and musicians from Egypt (Assem),Palestine (Ramallah Underground),Turkey (Bey) etc
LABELS: Nonesuch
WORKS: Assorted
PERFORMER: Kronos Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 07559 798865 9

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The title of this fascinating record denotes a confluence of streams both geographical and cultural, and Kronos have cast their net wide, taking in music from Egypt, Ethiopia, Serbia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, among other countries. And the mixes they go for are unexpected: a lullaby from black Iranians, and a gamey blend of religious traditions from Lebanon.

Osvaldo Golijov is called upon to rework a movie song from 1940s Cairo, while Muslim calls to prayer plus Orthodox bells decorate a haunting outburst by the Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov.

Without doubt, the Kronos Quartet’s instrumental experiments have never been more successful. If you want to know what a Serbian gusle sounds like, or a Hindu shruti box, for example, violinist David Harrington will show you; his scordatura performance in an Iranian piece gives the violin an entirely new sound-world. Sometimes the quartet simply joins forces with an alien army – as with the Azeri mugham singer Alim Qasimov and his ensemble – to show just how musically inappropriate that word ‘alien’ is.

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One of my favourite tracks is a Kazakh ‘kyui’ (meditation) played with multiple overtone-harmonics by cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, while Harrington’s violin provides a background murmur. And here I must declare an interest, since this is an arrangement of a solo for the two-string horsehair fiddle which I originally field-recorded in Almaty: what’s remarkable is the way in which they’ve opened it up, while preserving its rapt intimacy. Michael Church