Kugeltov Klezmer music lends a joyous note to the festival

Adam Chamber Music Festival: Kugeltov Klezmer Quartet (NZSO players – Robin Perks (violin) and Malcolm Struthers (double bass); Tui Clark (clarinet) and Ross Harris (piano accordion)

St John’s Church, Nelson. Thursday 10 February 1pm

I first heard the Kugeltov Quartet in the Festival concerts at St Andrew’s on the Terrace last March, though they had been around for a while before that, and I was immediately enraptured by the music. There’s no barrier to its access, as it lies beneath so much European classical music; furthermore I’d come to love the popular music of all the Balkan countries when I lived in Greece in the 60s.

It is probably true that the success of the concert lies even more in the energy and idiomatic grasp of the various styles by the musicians themselves. It would be hard to imagine more spirited and brilliant players, especially those in the leading melodic roles, Robin Perks on the violin and Tui Clark of the clarinet. Both slipped easily into the boisterous manner characterised by slides between notes, shrill, squealing clarinet forays that seemed to eliminate the sound of a reed altogether, and rhythms that made it hard to stay in the seat.

There were about 25 pieces on the programme some grouped together and played as if they were parts of a larger piece. Ross Harris had written many of them.

So close are many of these tunes to the traditional music of various Ethnic groups of Eastern Europe that I have always wondered whether this Jewish music derived from the music of the Slav and Magyar – Christian or Muslim – people who surrounded them. Or the other way round.

Typically the music varied between fast and riotous dances that seemed to call for very fast foot-work, jumping and spinning, such as Der Heyser Bulgar and Freyt Aykh Yidelekh, and slow and soulful ones like Kale Bazetsn or Harris’s Vuhin gaitzu. And there were a few pieces that called up a distinct tradition like Greber and Dobriden, both in triple time.

They ended the concert with one of the most popular tunes from Ukraine, Hava Naglia, which brought the audience to stamping feet and clapping hands.

In the early festivals the trad jazz band Nairobi Trio was a popular highlight, playing in the Boathouse on Rocks Road. It’s good that the festival still imports such music that is in spirited contrast to most of the music and also offers such a strong antidote to ubiquitous pop and rock music.

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