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Briefly Noted: Ana Sokolović's Imaginary Folklore

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A. Sokolović, Folklore Imaginaire, Ensemble Transmission

(released on March 11, 2016)
Naxos 8.573304 | 58'08"
Serbian-born composer Ana Sokolović, who resides in Montréal, is the creator of Svadba, one of the most engrossing new operas of the past decade. I reviewed the work, a tour de force for six women's voices and a few sparingly used percussion instruments, at Philadelphia Opera in 2013, and it continues to rack up productions, most recently this past April in San Francisco. (You can still watch the production of Svadba recorded at the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence.) The harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic invention of Svadba had me convinced that Sokolović, now in her 40s, was a new voice to keep my ear on, but precious little by her has come my way since then, except on the always useful YouTube.

Ensemble Transmission, a contemporary music collective based in Montréal, has finally broken the drought with a new disc of Sokolović's music, including three pieces recorded here for the first time. Except for a couple of pieces from the 1990s, which have been revised in later versions, most of the repertory included for these tracks, laid down in the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur in Montréal, dates from the last decade or so. Vez, a piece for unaccompanied cello, combines sounds inspired by Serbian folk music with a rock-like rhythmic drive. Rhythm — the complex but still comprehensible rhythm of central European folk music — is the glue that holds much of Sokolović's music together and keeps one's interest. Portrait parle is a set of movements for piano trio, evoking an early 20th-century chart with descriptions given to French police officers to help identify suspects by various parts of the human body and appearance. It, too, is powered by pulsating sounds of a dizzying range, from recognizable to utterly mysterious.

The Trois Etudes for piano are action-packed miniatures, given acidic edge by the group's pianist, Brigitte Poulin, while Guy Pelletier draws forth atmospheric sounds from the bass flute in the evocative duet with piano Un bouquet de brume. Less effective is Mesh, an extended study for E-flat clarinet, which along with Vez shows that Sokolović's gifts are most pronounced in ensemble compositions. Along with Portrait parle, the other piece for larger ensemble, Ciaccona, performed here in the arrangement Sokolović created for Ensemble Transmission, generates the most consistent interest.

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