Gabriela Lena Frank: Hilosby Gabriela Lena Frank
California-born composer Gabriela Lena Frank can number Chinese and Lithuanian Jews among her ancestry, but it is a third strand, Peruvian, that has had the most impact on her music. She has been influenced by Bartók and by Ginastera's adaptation of Bartók's ideas to Latin American contexts, and she has also cited Chou Wen-Chung as an influence. Frank manages to create rigorous structures without a hint of pop Latinisms, and yet to make music that's broadly appealing and has a certain relaxed quality that's almost completely lacking in Ginastera. The opening work here, "Hilos," was composed in 2010 and makes a good introduction to this contemporary composer. It is for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. The title, which means Threads, refers both to Peruvian textiles and to the strands of dance music and pictorial themes that are woven together into a larger structure. Each movement is clearly organized tonally and convincingly linked to the others, with a driving finale based on the Peruvian karnavalito rhythm, but along the way there's tremendous diversity in rhythm and melodic shape. The "Danza de los Saqsampillos for two marimbas" is a rhythmically entrancing short piece and one that every percussionist should get to know, while the "Adagio para Amantaní, for cello and piano," depicts a remote and barren Andean mountain lake and its nearby inhabitants; the work makes a striking contrast with the Danza. The final "Quijotadas for string quartet" is a somewhat more severe work than "Hilos," but its pizzicato second movement is full of humor. This is recommended Western-hemisphere chamber music that will bring life to any concert or listening program.
- Release Date:
- Naxos American
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Gabriela Lena Frank is an up-and-coming composer who's really made a name for herself in the realm of chamber music. The latest collection of her work features four recent chamber compositions with a common theme. All, in some fashion, draw inspiration from Latin and South American music traditions. It's an impressive recording. The CD starts with the title track, "Hilos" (Threads), a 2010 work for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. Based on Peruvian elements, the work works and reworks various instrumental combinations, creating the sonic tapestry the title refers to. Frank composes with a strong rhythmic feel, using sparse melodic and contrapuntal lines that make the work accessible while sounding like nobody else. The "Adagio para Amantani" seems more influenced by academia than Andelusia. This haunting work for cello and piano presents small repeated note motifs that seem to hang suspended in space, punctuated by chord clusters. But this isn't just an intellectual exercise. The music has a forward motion and a logical progression to it that makes it work. The Quijotadas for string quartet is similar, but has a much stronger Latin feel to it. To me, it's the most musically substantial composition on the album. While I enjoyed it the first time I heard it, I know repeated hearings will reveal more of the complex structure of the work. My favorite track was the Danza de los Saqsampills for two marimbas. It's a uniquely Frank work, but if I had to describe it in other terms, I'd call it a Latin-American Steve Reich homage (which only hints at what the work sounds like). A better description might be that this is simply six minutes of fun. I have to admit I didn't know a lot about Gabriela Frank before getting this recording. But now that I've listened to it, I'd like to explore her music further. The works are performed by the ALIAS Chamber Ensemble, a group Frank has worked closely with. The ensemble know and understand Frank's compositional language, which really adds to the performances. If you're looking for a fresh compositional voice (especially if you like chamber music), then I highly recommend giving Hilos a listen.