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Apollo and Dionysus - Sounds from Classical Antiquity
Stef Conner (voice, lyre), Barnaby Brown (aulos), Callum Armstrong (aulos, plagiaulos), Olga Sutkowska (aulos), Justus Willberg (hydraulis, aulos), John Kenny (lituus), Rupert Till (bell, hydraulis (drone), cymbals)
rec. 2015-2017, University of Huddersfield and Kulturzentrum, Karmeliterkirche, Weißenburg, Germany
DELPHIAN DCD34188 [56:04]

This is the fifth and final disc in University of Huddersfield's EMAP project. The other CDs, some of which I have reviewed here, are Spellweaving - ancient music from the Highlands of Scotland (Vol. 1); Ice and Longboats - ancient music of Scandinavia (Vol. 2); Dragon Voices - The Giant Celtic Horns of Ancient Europe (Vol. 3); The Edge of Time: Palaeolithic bone flutes from France and Germany (Vol. 4).

The aulos and plagiaulos are types of flute. Going by the booklet photograph, a Lituus is rather like a very slim combination of an aulos and a two-metre-long drastically slimmed down Lur but with an upturned (towards the player) small horn, resting on the floor as the musician plays it. A hydraulis is a water organ. The other instruments listed need no explanation. They are all illustrated in the well-suited and booted booklet which runs to 24 pages.

Much of this music dates from between 300 BC and 300 AD but there are also some tracks which feature new music designed "to give a contemporary voice to the instruments of the period". The present disc has 26 tracks; none of them very long. We start with the longest: Invocation of the Muse. Stef Conner's memorable voice and the instrumental parts together capture an ecstatic murmuring and humming. Geographically at odds with the locale of this project, this track seems to me to evoke North Africa - its deserts and oases. At first Conner vocalises but later sings words that are in the booklet. A more overt impression is made by Conner's singing in the medieval rasp of Delphic Paean. The bell and oud strangely suggest a Christmas carol in the innocent stepping out of From Berlin manuscript 6870. The chattering Plagiaulos variations parallel a similarly active role for the aulos in Aulos Variations except that in the latter there is definite melodic substance over long-held notes. The quick-chattering theme proceeds at what is almost a jog pace. In Low and Sweet deep rumbling woodwind sounds recall the beleaguered 'dinosaur' in Bernard Herrmann's music for the film Journey to the centre of the earth. Herrmann memorably used a mournfully desperate Serpent on that occasion. It's disorientating when the music of From Bellermann §98, dōdekásēmos sounds so much like Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony. The Study on Bellermann in tracks 8 and 9 has the hydraulis radiating a full access of light and follows a path later tracked by the Steve Reich.

In Gallops and Fanfares much play is made with trumpet sounds - blarty and blurty - and on occasion the playing seems quite strained. The oud takes up this same effect in Tiaso. The Study on Bellermann §99, allos dōdekásēmos and Bellermann §104, kōlon hexásēmon features bright Graingerian writing. The Plagiaulos variations (after Bellermann §101) has the oud evoking the lonely shepherd or godling playing on some forested hillside in Attica. A captivating chanting is taken up in Quodlibet on Bellermann §§100 and 80. A watery instrumentally burbling reverberation is accentuated by the bell in Tiaso. The Aulo_dia has an unusually sentiment-heavy warble. Another instalment of the Aulos variations points towards North Africa with its Berber tones. From the very atmospheric Berlin manuscript 6870 (13–15) you can almost reach out and touch the recording acoustic. A sustained instrumental humming effect is heard in On an Armenian folk tune while the final track on the disc - another helping of the same Armenian folk tune is almost Sibelian in its rough and dark unpolished mahogany signature.

For all the academic fire-power brought to bear there must surely and inevitably be a major infusion of musically informed speculation in these discs. After all, a project like this involves translating recalcitrant sources (presumably fragmentary on occasion) from paper or stone or parchment to sound in the world of 2018. As much can be said of two non-EMAP projects I have written about over the years: Ancient Egypt and El agua y los árabes. As a listening experience the 56 minutes of this lovingly couched and variegated musical experience is bound to inform, illuminate and prompt discussion.

I am sure that David Munrow (1942-1976), whose name, life, achievements and recordings are too likely to be forgotten in the mêlée of today's culture, would have loved this. I heard a fragment of one of his Pied Piper programmes the other day when transferring an old reel to CDR, only to be reminded of how his effervescently informed musicianship is tragically lost to us. Much the same goes for the radio work of Atarah Ben-Tovim (b. 1940) who, thirty plus years ago, was very active and successful in music broadcasting for children. Fortunately, she is still with us although she seems to have taken a sabbatical from UK radio broadcasting.

Rob Barnett
 
Contents
1 Invocation of the Muse (Mesomedes of Crete; musical notation ed. by Martin L. West, arr. by Stef Conner) [6:31]
2 From Berlin manuscript 6870 (20–22) [0:56]
3 Plagiaulos variations (after Bellermann §101), part 1 [1:12]
4 Low and Sweet [3:15]
5 12th Pythian Ode (Pindar; ed. and arr. Stef Conner, Barnaby Brown and Armand D’Angour) [5:17]
6 From Bellermann §98, dōdekásēmos [0:29]
7 Tiaso: introduction [2:37]
8 Study on Bellermann §100, tetrásēmos [0:59]
9 Study on Bellermann §101, oktōkaidekásēmos [1:29]
10 Gallops and Fanfares [2:23]
11 Delphic Paean (Athenaios; ed. and arr. Armand D’Angour and Barnaby Brown) [3:56]
12 Study on Bellermann §99, allos dōdekásēmos [1:24]
13 Plagiaulos variations (after Bellermann §101), part 2 [2:20]
14 Study on Bellermann §98, dōdekásēmos (Phrygian) [0:54]
15 Study on Bellermann §98, dōdekásēmos (Lydian) [0:52]
16 Tiaso: first episode [1:41]
17 From Bellermann §104, kōlon hexásēmon [0:38]
18 Quodlibet on Bellermann §§100 and 80 [0:43]
19 From Michigan manuscript inv. 1250 [0:44]
20 Tiaso: second episode [2:31]
21 aulo_dia [4:33]
22 Aulos variations (after Bellermann §98), part 1 [3:13]
23 From Berlin manuscript 6870 (13–15) [1:01]
24 On an Armenian folk tune [0:59]
25 Aulos variations (after Bellermann §98), part 2 [3:47]
26 On an Armenian folk tune (2) [1:27]

 

 



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