The John Psathas Percussion Project, Vol 1
I first encountered the music of John Psathas, a New Zealand composer of Greek heritage born in 1966, on Evelyn Glennie’s ‘lively and tonally varied’ album ‘Drumming’ (Catalyst, 7/96, reviewed by Rob Cowan). The work featured there, Matre’s Dance (1991), is a vivid duet inspired by an episode in the later Dune novels by Frank Herbert. Conceived originally as a violin solo, its transformation into a percussion-and-piano duo was wholly convincing. It reappears here – as with all seven works – in an authorised arrangement made in 2015 by Omar Carmenates, Professor of Percussion at Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina. And it works terrifically well.
That is a tribute to the quality of the performances by the crack percussion ensemble gathered together by Carmenates, a superb player evident enough in his solo playing: vibraphone in Muisca – which started out as a guitar duo – doubling on marimba in Jettatura (originally a 1999 piano solo) as well as the percussion soloist in Matre’s Dance. However, this really is an ensemble disc, appreciated most fully in the ensemble works, the opening Corybas and concluding Aegean (both created as piano trios in 2011), which weave their mesmeric percussive way more convincingly than their original guises.
Several of the original versions of the works have been recorded already and/or are accessible in YouTube recordings. These new, superbly rendered performances match any of their competitors. This is especially true of the Piano Quintet, where – as in Muisca – the string-based parts set down in 2000 are transmogrified into a wholly new work, whereas in Drum Dances (1993) the original piano accompaniment is relatively straightforwardly transcribed for percussion. Navona’s sound is top notch. We all need a little bit of percussion in our lives, and this fits the bill splendidly.