Words by Nigel Williamson
A 40-year Kronology
David Harrington and his colleagues have long been intrepid world music adventurers, expanding the string quartet repertoire with works from diverse sources and genres around the globe. This collection – two thirds of which is previously unreleased – marks Kronos’ 40th anniversary by presenting 15 pieces drawn from 14 countries across five continents. What sets Kronos apart from most who have trained in the Western classical tradition is their invention, experimentation with microtonality and ability to re-think the capabilities of their instruments. On Omar Souleyman’s ‘La Sidounak Sayyada’, for example, they somehow capture the feral energy of Middle Eastern dabke dance music by recreating the thumping house beats on classical string instruments. Equally striking is their adaptation of Blind Willie Johnson’s 1927 blues recording, ‘Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground’, on which the fiddle is played with a bottleneck, a pencil slides eerily over the cello strings and a ghostly viola resurrects the voice of Johnson.
There are traditional Greek, Vietnamese and Swedish melodies, collaborations with Asha Bhosle, Wu Man, the Afghani rubab (lute) player Homayun Sakhi and Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, the last being featured on a piece especially composed for the project by Terry Riley. The musical world tour ends with an impossibly lovely ‘Danny Boy’ accompanied by the yodelling singer Don Walser and his Texan country swing band. Happy birthday to Kronos Quartet, one of the musical marvels of our age.
Track to Try: ‘La Sidounak Sayyada’