Musica del Mondo

Callaway Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Those who gathered at Callaway Auditorium at the weekend to hear tango ensemble Quartetto were told that, due to illness, the concert had been cancelled. Instead, we heard Musica del Mondo, a quintet whose prime focus is folk music of central Europe.

I dare say that for most at the performance, this would have been a first encounter with the del Mondo players. And, as we were told by affable team leader Alex Millier (best known to concertgoers as clarinet player in the WASO), this was the very first time the group had ever played in a venue which had both walls AND a roof!

The ensemble’s more usual haunts are outdoors markets. And this would have explained why the decibel levels produced by the players on Sunday were so high. But that extra sonic grunt and staying power that are necessary for the del Mondo musicians to make themselves heard out of doors competing against traffic noise, airplanes overheard and shouting spruikers one encounters at open air markets, turned out to be overkill at Callaway Auditorium.

Musica del Mondo brings very real skill and enthusiasm to its playing which, in both technical terms and stylistic authenticity, are immediately apparent and indisputable. But the ensemble will need to rein in its sonic exuberance as well as introducing more tonal light and shade when it comes in, quite literally, from the cold.

How fascinating (and serendipitous) it was to come across this ensemble and to listen to the sort of music – unsophisticated, earthy, atavistic and powerfully communicative – that composers such as Bartok diligently collected from remote villages to conserve for posterity before it disappeared altogether. There was also some klezmer music with Philip Everall, engagingly sporting a trilby (as did accordionist Mark Bozikovich) coming close to the heart of a genre that, like the tango, is enjoying a remarkable worldwide renaissance.

Musica del Mondo consists of five players who are not only gifted but versatile. Russell Johnson, for instance, is as articulate on the hurdy gurdy as the violin (I understand he also plays percussion and the Arabic string instrument known as the oud.). And between them, Millier and Everall play a variety of clarinets ranging from the peeping sopranino to the gruffly burping, low-register contrabass clarinet. Bozikovich certainly knows his way around the accordion as does Phil Waldron on double bass.

This concert may well have been a journey of discovery for many. I look forward to hearing Musica del Mondo again whether indoors or (weather permitting) outside at the markets.

Neville Cohn Copyright 2006

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