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Music for Strings
Rohan KRIWACZEK (b. 1968)
Bee Sting in Rohan’s Kitchen (2007) [5:32]
Jacques COHEN (b. 1969)
Yigdal – Fantasia on a Traditional Jewish Theme (2006) [16:43]
Salomon CUELLAR (b. 1990)
Suite for Strings (2006) [11:07]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839–1881)
The Old Castle (from Pictures at an Exhibition) (1874) (arr. Jacques Cohen) [4:26]
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921–2006)
Variations on a Ukrainian Folksong (1944) (arranged Roger Steptoe) [17:37]
Andrzej (1914–1991) and Roxanna (b.1968) PANUFNIK
Modlitwa (Prayer) (1990 – 1996/2007) [5:55]
Isis Ensemble/Jacques Cohen
rec. 27-28 September 2007, St Edward the Confessor Church, Mottingham, South London. DDD
MERIDIAN CDE84561 [61:35] 
Experience Classicsonline

This is the first recording of the Isis Ensemble and, on the strength of these performances, it is a fine group of string players. The programme is interesting but there’s a bit too much cake and not enough greens to make a really satisfactory mix.
Rohan Kriwaczek’s Bee Sting in Rohan’s Kitchen gets things off to a rollicking start. It’s a very enjoyable bit of fluff and would grace the opening of any concert of string music. Jacques Cohen’s Yigdal is an extended work which has some lovely writing in it, but it also has quite a lot of Bartók as well. Salomon Cuellar’s Suite is a very assured work for a sixteen year old, bright and breezy, but there’s insufficient substance to sustain eleven minutes of music.
Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition has, over the years, attracted arrangements by too many composers to remember. This new version of The Old Castle – arranged by Jacques Cohen – is rather good. The muted strings give the piece an eerie quality which suits the music very well. The notes tell us that, when time permits, Cohen intends to do the whole suite – I wonder how he’ll do the Grand Gate at Kiev with such a small string body? This might not be such a good idea.
The prizes of the disk come last. Malcolm Arnold’s witty Variations on a Ukrainian Folksong was written for piano. This new version is by Roger Steptoe – a composer we should hear more of. Whilst removing some of the witticism and making certain portions a bit po-faced he injects some real fun into the piece which couldn’t be had on a solo piano. The 1st variation, for instance, uses a very silly solo violin – the work was written for a violinist friend of Arnold’s. The mock seriousness is all the more pointed by the use of strings because of the instrument’s ability really to sustain chords and make attacks which immediately fall away. The arrangement also makes the music sound more “English” and puts it firmly in the Tippett Double String Concerto and Britten Frank Bridge Variations camp.
To end, a beautiful work by father and daughter. Father Andrzej died before completing his setting of a verse by Jerzy Pietrkiewicz for chorus. As he had previously arranged his unaccompanied choral work Song to the Virgin Mary for string sextet, his daughter was asked to complete the work for strings; first for quartet and later for orchestra. It’s a most moving expression of faith, Andrzej’s outer sections displaying his usual mystical vision and Roxanna’s middle section, more troubled and disturbed. A very satisfactory end to an interesting concert.
Despite my misgivings about some of the pieces this is a most enjoyable disk, the first three pieces certainly entertain even though they lack any real personality. The Arnold, and especially the Panufnik, make their mark and show exactly how rewarding music can be created from the simplest of means.
The recording is excellent, and the performances full of commitment. The notes are good and the presentation attractive.
Bob Briggs


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