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Ekele: Piano Music by African Composers
Ayo BANKOLE (1935-1976)
Variations for Little Ayo [3:38]
Piano Sonata No. 2 in C major The Passion (1956-59) [19:53]
Ya Orule [2:46]
Nigerian Suite (1957) [5:26]
African Suite (1957) [10:45]
24 Studies in African Rhythms (excerpts 1, 3, 15, 8, 11, 18, 23, 24) [15:21]
Christian ONYEJI (b.1967)
Ekele (Greeting) [1:02]
Echoes of Traditional Life [1:57]
Chineke Diri Ekele (arranged by Christian Onyeji) [4:45]
Rebeca Omordia (piano)
rec. 2017, Radio Hall, Bucharest, Romania

The pianist Rebeca Omordia is well known and, as they say, an eminent future lies ahead of her. Her EML disc Sea-Croon: The Voice of the Cello in the 1920s should be noted as should her role with Mark Bebbington on the Somm CD of RVW's piano music. There have been notable live concerts as well: last year's EMF in Yorkshire included her contribution. A very fine London recital was reviewed here and in 2015 she performed the Ireland Legend for piano and orchestra. The Birmingham British piano festival took place the same year and included Omordia in Three Spring Miniatures by William Lloyd Webber and Ireland's Scarlet Ceremonies.

The present collection of solo piano music by Nigerian composers showcases composers otherwise completely unknown in most quarters. They wrote in the Western tradition and in Omordia's hands their works are fluently played; she exudes considerable mastery. There's no lack of confidence here.

Ayo Bankole came from a musically nurturing family and studied at the University of California. His minuscule Variations for Little Ayo are artless and rhythmically shiny-eyed. Much the same applies to the more demanding Ya Orule. These two pieces form disarming bookends to the same composer's imposing Piano Sonata No. 2 The Passion. Bankole chose, or was chosen by, an ambitious source of inspiration. This is reflected in the titles of the three movements: And they sought about for to kill him; And He was crucified; Mary's Song. The music is for the most part implacably angular and is in approximately the same tropic as Alan Rawsthorne and Alan Bush. Its darkly rumbling, minatory and cut-glass impacts take a course that combines accessibility and angularity. The second movement ends with starry arpeggiation - a climax that feels like a hymn to eternity. The finale is under-powered by comparison with its two predecessors but that is not down to Omordia. While the movement is sometimes passionately engaged and delights in Chopin glissandi, for me its relaxed playfulness is out of keeping with the other two movements.

The extracts from Fred Onovwerosuoke's 24 Studies in African Rhythms present a series of short and lively little pieces that are both polished and adroit. They would make a nice change from the standards at any piano competition. Take study no. 11 for something with exceptional warmth and kinetic fascination. Onovwerosuoke was from a generation younger than Bankole. He too studied in the USA, at Principia College, Elsah, Illinois.

Next, we return to Bankole with his little Nigerian Suite. This offers slivers and shards of ideas which for all their brevity do hold the attention. The African Suite has more depth and is longer. In this latter set the Passacaglia is the surprise. It is very strong in the manner of the Sonata. The suite's final Vulture is devastating as well; again quite angular and explosive.

The three concluding pieces by, or arranged by, Christian Onyeji remind me - and the parallel is not perfect - of Kirsten Johnston's forays into Albanian folk music for Guild (Kenge; Rapsodi). Onyeji has pursued his avocation and studies within Africa.

The two short items at the start, the regional suites (with the exceptions mentioned) and the last three pieces are far from desiccated and have the ebullience of Arthur Benjamin's popular piano music with a splash of Bartók.

The liner-notes are sympathetically informed and give plenty of detail. They are by composer Robert Matthew-Walker. These extend to 5 pages and are in English only. The notes are good but why so few dates for the music and was there not more information about these three composers' other works?

Rob Barnett

1 Variations for little Ayo [1:37]

Piano Sonata No. 2 in C-Major 'The Passion'
2 I. And they sought about for to kill Him [7:34]
3 II. And He was crucified [7:52]
4 III. Mary's Song or Mary's Rondo [4:29]

5 Ya Orule [2:46]

Nigerian Suite
14 I. Forest Rains [0:27]
15 II. Oyaka Kongs [1:03]
16 III. Orin Fun Osumare [1:38]
17 IV. October Wind [1:12]
18 V. Warrior March [0:47]

African Suite:
19 I. Eiye kire o? [1:52]
20 I. Ioahun Re [2:36]
21 III. Afoju Ekute Meta [0:31]
22 IV. Mase Jina Sagiri [3:57]
23 V. Igunnugun [1:49]

24 Studies in African Rhythms:
6 I. Study No. 1 'Okoye' [1:47]
7 II. Study No. 3 'Udje' [1:25]
8 III. Study No. 15 'Mother Earth' [1:40]
9 IV. Study No. 8 'Ayevwiomo Dance 1' [1:52]
10 . Study No. 11 'Ayevwiomo Dance 3' [1:52]
11 I. Study No. 18 'Pende' [3:07]
12 VII. Study No. 23 'Sanza' [1:11]
13 VIII. Study No. 24 'Raging River Dance 2' [2:25]

24 Ekele [1:00]
25 Echoes of Traditional Life [1:57]
26 Chineke Diri Ekele (traditional) [4:45]


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