The third instalment from the Houston-based Apollo Chamber Players’ project of commissioning and recording 20 new ‘folk music-inspired and multicultural works’ by the end of the decade introduces four excellent new string quartets and writes a new chapter in Navona’s commitment to the Cuban music industry. In fact, the label claims that Apollo’s recording of Arthur Gottschalk’s Imágenes de Cuba at Abdala Studios in Havana in January 2017 marked the first time an American chamber ensemble had recorded and performed in Cuba. And Gottschalk’s infectious work makes the perfect centrepiece, drawing on Cuban dance rhythms and attitudes alongside conflicting feelings of nostalgia, pride and sadness for its past, and shouts of ‘Cuba libre!’
Not recorded in Cuba, Gilad Cohen’s deeply seeking Three Goat Blues succeeds at being an effective cover tune by drawing on an entirely different set of roots, represented by Passover prayers and fables, and by the quiet beauty he finds in ancient Provençal Jewish tunes. Malek Jandali’s deeply enigmatic String Quartet in E flat, even when punctuated by a few probably inevitable Bartókian moments, speaks with voices and in tongues emerging from the composer’s Syrian heritage that generously repay more reflective listening. Javier Farias’s Andean Suite is almost, but provocatively also not, what you might expect from the raucous sounds of a ritual fight between a bull and a condor, sad drifting melodies from high mountain plains and a Bolivian dance from Carnival.
The sound for the Gottschalk is infectious, loud and fun. The sound from Clarion Hall at Brazosport College 60 miles from downtown Houston for the others is intimate and detailed.