Maria Pomianowska & Friends: "Chopin on 5 Continents"

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Maria Pomianowska & Friends: “Chopin on 5 Continents”

"A marvellous album"

Now, here’s an idea! Take one world famous Polish composer steeped in the folk/classical oeuvre of the Mazovia region and perform his music on the traditional instruments - and in the styles - of some of the richest musical cultures to be found around the globe. This is a real labour of love by multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and composer Maria Pomianowska and beautifully executed. Classical music is definitely not my strong point and Chopin to me was always just another ‘old dead white man’; but . . . this just brings it alive. I was able to come to terms with the compositions because the unusual instrumentation forces you from the familiar settings you expect to hear these pieces in and gives you a fresh set of ears to hear through. A marvellous album - and I say this as a complete outsider to Chopin.

Imagine Chopin’s Prelude “Raindrop” (Op 28, No 5) against an African backing of balaphone, djembe, kora, ngoni, beat-box vocals and children’s choir, or the Etude “Chanson de L’Adieu” (Op 10, No 3) sung in Chinese (don’t ask me which dialect!) against the bowed er-hu, gongs, dulcimer, harps and dizi (transverse flute), or even the Krakowiak Rondo (Op 14) performed with the Siberian input of Jews’ Harp, and Khoomei (Tuvan throat singing). And yet, it works!

The album places the Largo from Fantasie Impromptu in India, the Waltz (Op 64, No 2) in Andalucia, the Nocturne (Op 9, No 2) in Brazil and even gets on the steamer all the way to New Orleans for the “Minute Waltz”; Persia, Japan, Arabia, Bulgaria, Armenia and the Balkans all get visited by Chopin until we arrive back home in Poland with the song “A Young Girl’s Wish" (Op 74, No 1).

"The performances are exemplary and the instruments fascinating"

Pomianowska isn’t purist either in the selection of instruments for each track since, for instance, the Australian didgeridoo appears on the Siberian track and her beloved Polish suka appears on 11 tracks altogether. But each interpretation has its own distinct flavour and it’s a feast for the ears. The performances are exemplary and the instruments themselves are fascinating: the Armenian duduk (an oboe that sounds like a cross between a saxophone and a cello), the Tuvan doshpuluur (a trapezoidal plucked instrument), the Iranian kemanche (spike fiddle), the Polish hurdy-gurdy, the Balkan kaval (end-blown flute), the Iranian setar, the Bulgarian gadulka, the Slovakian koncovka (a shepherd’s duct-blown overtone fipple flute) . . .

Such an array of sounds. Riff, daff, zarb, ney, saz, oud, shawm, sarangi, koto, cajon, tabla, morin-hur to name but a few, and all explained in the accompanying booklet. There are three special Polish instruments here too: the Miedzyleska Pipe is an experimental instrument made from a wooden tube; the Fiddle of Plock is a copy of a 16th C birchwood instrument uncovered by archaeologists; and the Suka of Bilgoraj - reconstructed on the basis of nothing more than an 1895 watercolour painting, carved out of a single piece of cherrywood and played using the lateral touch of a fingernail.

"This is a great album. Impressive on so many levels."

I didn’t know what to make of the album at first. A Polish composer I knew nothing about, a brave (almost foolhardy) attempt to assemble a ridiculous amount of musicians and often obscure instruments from all over the world, before even mentioning arranging the music for them, and then to market it with a picture of Chopin sporting dreadlocks! Seriously! (I even met the girl who supplied the original locks whilst in Copenhagen last year!). And yet, this is a great album. Impressive on so many levels. Even if you don’t like (or don’t think you like) Classical music or Chopin in particular, this could just be the album that changes your mind. Hat’s off to Ms Pomianowska!

"Hat’s off to Ms Pomianowska!"

Glyn Phillips