Gabriela Lena Frank is an up-and-coming composer who's really made a name for herself in the realm of chamber music. The latest collection of her work features four recent chamber compositions with a common theme. All, in some fashion, draw inspiration from Latin and South American music traditions.
It's an impressive recording. The CD starts with the title track, "Hilos" (Threads), a 2010 work for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. Based on Peruvian elements, the work works and reworks various instrumental combinations, creating the sonic tapestry the title refers to. Frank composes with a strong rhythmic feel, using sparse melodic and contrapuntal lines that make the work accessible while sounding like nobody else.
The "Adagio para Amantani" seems more influenced by academia than Andelusia. This haunting work for cello and piano presents small repeated note motifs that seem to hang suspended in space, punctuated by chord clusters. But this isn't just an intellectual exercise. The music has a forward motion and a logical progression to it that makes it work.
The "Quijotadas" for string quartet is similar, but has a much stronger Latin feel to it. To me, it's the most musically substantial composition on the album. While I enjoyed it the first time I heard it, I know repeated hearings will reveal more of the complex structure of the work.
My favorite track was the "Danza de los Saqsampills" for two marimbas. It's a uniquely Frank work, but if I had to describe it in other terms, I'd call it a Latin-American Steve Reich homage (which only hints at what the work sounds like). A better description might be that this is simply six minutes of fun.
The works are performed by the ALIAS Chamber Ensemble, a group Frank has worked closely with. The ensemble know and understand Frank's compositional language, which really adds to the performances.
I have to admit I didn't know a lot about Gabriela Frank before getting this recording. But now that I've listened to it, I'd like to explore her music further.
If you're looking for a fresh compositional voice (especially if you like chamber music), then I highly recommend giving Hilos a listen.