Haitian Works for Cello

JUSTIN ÉLIE (1883-1951): Légende créole for Cello and Piano, WERNER JAEGERHUBER (1900-1953): Petite Suite for Solo Cello, FRANTZ CASSÉUS (1915-1993): Suite haïtienne for Cello and Piano, CARMEN BROUARD (1909-2005): Duo Sentimental, JULIO RACINE (1945-2020): Sonate à Cynthia for Cello and Piano, DANIEL BERNARD ROUMAIN (b.1970): Femiel, JEAN “RUDY” PERRAULT (b.1961): Still Around for Solo Cello, Brother Malcolm… for Cello and Piano.

Catalogue Number: 11W066

Label: New Focus Recordings

Reference: FCR279

Format: CD

Price: $16.98

Description: This is first and foremost a most attractive recital of fine, tonal and accessible music. It is also highly significant, in that it offers collectors a rare opportunity to sample the classical music of Haïti, a national genre that most music lovers likely never knew existed. There are various reasons for this, not least the sadly misleading depiction of the island nation in the media, as a country of slums and dirt roads, universal poverty, political unrest and the constant ravages of natural disasters as though that were all there is to it. Less acknowledged is that Haïti boasts world class hospitals, groundbreaking municipal solar lighting projects, magnificent architecture including an imposing early 19th century fortress, luxury hotels, and - more pertinently to the matter at hand - first-rate music schools, a symphony orchestra, and a tradition of notated composition dating back to the 19th century (which includes a great deal of piano and chamber music, but also orchestral music, at least one full-scale Mass, and operas). Given the close ties between France and its former colony, a good deal of French influence is to be heard in the music of the first generation of Haïtian composers which included pianist-composer Ludovic Lamothe, who performed in Europe to considerable acclaim, and Justin Élie, represented here by a lovely, lyrical chamber miniature which incorporates the distinctive contours of Haïtian folk melody into a work of Gallic elegance and charm. A work of real stature and originality is guitarist-composer Casseus' Suite, performed here in a robust transcription by Julio Racine, which is based on the characteristic rhythms and melodies of Haïtian dances and folksong. Racine's own Sonata is a fine example of the assimilation of Haïtian idioms into a contemporary idiom; the heavily syncopated and unpredictably accented rhythms of the Haïtian species of Méringue, inflected by the trance-induced motions of Vodou dances, are melded with jazz chords and rhythms in a three-movement sonata in traditional layout. Jaegerhuber (thoroughly Haïtian despite his German-American father’s name; his mother was a mulatto), a prolific composer in many forms (author of the above-mentioned Mass, which used Vodou themes) is represented by an excellent piece of German Baroque pastiche, obviously in tribute to Bach. Skillful and appealing as it is, it is far from representative of his output, which mostly combines his deep love and understanding of Haïtian folk music with his German musical education. Perrault and Roumain both live and work in the USA, the latter born in the Haïtian diaspora and keenly aware of his Afro-Caribbean roots. His Femiel is extracted and arranged from a large work "One Loss Plus". Its first section is an hypnotic minimalist piece based on very limited material, the muted pizzicato cello suggesting the timbre of a drum (the "tanbou kache" (in Haïtian kreyol; cf "tambour caché" - hidden drum - of the CD's title); the second an eloquent soliloquy for bowed cello. Perrault's pieces are a theme and variations on a musical cryptogram, and a Beethovenian (though with modern polymodal harmonies) dialogue between equals. Brouard was a student of Élie, and emigrated to Canada in 1977; her Duo combines episodes of French romanticism in Chopinesque harmonies, of which her teacher would doubtless have approved, with more tempestuous sections in more modernist non-triadic harmony. Diana Golden (cello), Shawn Chang (piano).


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