Chamber works by Alberto Hemsi. © 2022 Chandos Records Ltd

CD Spotlight

Full of Colour

GEOFF PEARCE enjoys music by Alberto Hemsi

'The performers show a real affinity with this music and deliver a sparkling and vivacious performance that is full of character at every turn.'


Alberto Hemsi (1898-1975) is a new composer to me. He was born in Anatolia (in Modern Day Türkiye, which at the time of his birth was part of the Ottoman Empire). He had a life-long passion for the music of the Sephardic Jews who had lived in the area for over two thousand years, and he collected many Sephardic melodies whilst travelling around the area over a period of seventeen years. The title he gave his collection was Coplas Sephardies. Previously, there had been very little record of any of these melodies.

The first three pieces on the disc are the Greek Nuptial Dances, Op 37 (1956). These short works of around three minutes in duration each are to honour, respectively, the mother-in-law, the bride and the godfather. Scored for cello (Tom Wiebe) and piano (Kevin Ahfat), they are contrasting in nature, full of colour and are a great introduction to this composer. The performers give a character-filled account.

Listen — Alberto Hemsi: In Honour of the Bride (Danze nuziali greche)
(CHAN 20243 track 2, 1:04-1:50) ℗ 2022 Chandos Records Ltd :

Next come three Ancient Airs from the Coplas Sephardies - the composer's vocal Sephardic collection - for String Quartet Op 30 (circa 1945). These are about the same length as the previous pieces. The composer demonstrates very effective writing for this combination. I feel there is a very strong Spanish flavour to the first two pieces where the last one is more jig-like.

Listen — Alberto Hemsi: Ballata (Tre arie antiche)
(CHAN 20243 track 4, 0:31-1:06) ℗ 2022 Chandos Records Ltd :

In the three movement Pilpúl (Pepper) Sonata Op 27 (1942), the pianist Kevin Ahfat is joined by violinist Emily Kruspe. The work's title is derived from the Hebrew word 'pepper' but refers to the variation and arguments used in the interpretation of Talmudic law. The music is infused with Jewish melodies, and, particularly in the first movement, there are many time changes, giving the work an almost improvisatory feeling. The performers show a real affinity with this music and deliver a sparkling and vivacious performance that is full of character at every turn. Running for nearly twenty minutes, this work is quite substantial, and I hope this recording sparks increasing interest in this composer. This could be a shining jewel in any recital. At times I was reminded of the music of Enescu.

Listen — Alberto Hemsi: Allegretto comodo (Pilpúl Sonata)
(CHAN 20243 track 7, 4:33-5:10) ℗ 2022 Chandos Records Ltd :

In the Quintet for String Quartet and Viola, Op 28 (circa 1943), the extra viola is played by Steven Dann. His part is soloistic and virtuosic, and he is certainly up to the task. The work is in four movements, and the melodies are not drawn from Sephardic folk music.

Listen — Alberto Hemsi: Burlesca (Quintet, Op 28)
(CHAN 20243 track 11, 0:00-0:44) ℗ 2022 Chandos Records Ltd :

The disc ends with Meditation Op 16 (Dance in the Armenian style) for Cello and Piano and was composed some time around 1931. About six-and-a-half minutes long, this is evocative and conjures up the Greek Santouri (hammered dulcimer). It features the same performers as in the opening dances.

This is a very enjoyable disc of engaging and colourful music, performed by the very fine musicians of ARC Ensemble. I think most listeners will find enjoyment with this fine disc of unfamiliar music.

Copyright © 3 October 2022 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia








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