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Hemsi: Chamber Works

ARC Ensemble (Chandos)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Pilpúl Sonata; Quintet; Greek Nuptial Dances; Ancient Airs from the Coplas Sefardies; Méditation
ARC Ensemble
Chandos CHAN 20243   63:46 mins


The ARC Ensemble deserve special plaudits for their enterprising series of recordings which highlight the work of composers that were side-lined as a result of political and/or racial suppression. Their latest compellingly performed release, featuring music by Alberto Hemsi, presents arguably one of the more extreme cases of marginalisation. Born in 1898 into a Jewish Sephardic family that resided on the west coast of Turkey, Hemsi led a distinctly unsettled life. Forced on several occasions to move country and rebuild his career in entirely different surroundings, he was educated at the Milan Conservatoire, then worked for a time in Greece before moving to Egypt. His final destination, however, was Paris where he died in 1975.

Despite Hemsi’s nomadic existence, the works on this disc reflect the composer’s lifelong fascination for Sephardic folk music which he assiduously collected and transcribed, as well as a keen absorption of other exotic idioms. The net result is a sequence of attractive and atmospheric works that cover similar ground. These range from rhapsodic miniatures, such as the introspective Méditation in the Armenian style, or the largely upbeat Danza nuziala greche (both for cello and piano) to more extended works like the Pilpúl Sonata for violin and piano, its three contrasting movements reflecting a certain kinship with the music of Bloch and a particular fondness for perfumed harmonies in the central Larghetto meditativo. But perhaps the most absorbing music comes in the Tre arie antiche for string quartet and the Quintet, where Hemsi’s exploitation of sensuous chromatic harmonies and his resourceful writing for larger forces is given full sway.


Erik Levi