The Free-Reed Review
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CD Review: Alphen Opus 2
Alphen Opus T(w)o You
Review by Henry Doktorski:
The Alphen Opus 2 accordion orchestra was founded in August 1995 and is directed by the Russian-born conductor Sergé Latychev, presently living in Heiloo, Netherlands. Although Alphen Opus 2 specializes in original works for accordion orchestra by contemporary Dutch composers, they also perform music by other composers, as well as transcriptions. Their first tour was to Moscow in 1996; in 1998 the orchestra was invited to take part in the Sata Häme Soi accordion festival in Ikaalinen, Finland.
The conductor, Sergé Latychev studied bajan (button accordion) and orchestral and choral management at the Gnessin Music Academy in Moscow. After his graduation in 1982 (class of V. Dolgopolov) he worked as a concertmaster in the same Gnessin Music Academy. Later he conducted the "Harmonika" ensemble and the Orenburgs Cossacks Choir. For several years Sergé has worked in the Netherlands as an accordion teacher and conductor. Besides Alphen Opus 2, he conducts several choirs like the Don Kozakken koor from Rijswijk and the Noordhollandse Byzantijns mannenkoor from Zaandam.
I first heard about the group in February 2000 when I received an e-mail letter from Hanny van Holland, one of the members of the ensemble. She asked if I could help arrange for some concerts in Pittsburgh during their first United States tour in late April. Although time was short -- most classical music venues are booked a year or more in advance -- I said I would try if she would send me some press kits and CDs. After a few weeks, I was successful in organizing some concerts. The full tour itinerary can be found at http://classicalaccordion.freeservers.com.
Their CD is representative of their repertoire: transcriptions of famous classical works (Rubinstein's Russisch en Trepak and Boellmann's Suite Gothique), a tango (Piazzolla's Libertango), and original works for accordion ensemble by Dutch composers (Henk op't Ende's Collection, Ad Wammes' Boardwalk, Jack Kat's Four Moods, and Lorre Lynn Trytten's A Witch's Capers).
I was impressed both by the high quality of the works chosen for their first CD as well as the high quality of their playing. In one e-mail, Ms. Holland assured me that they "play only serious works, not entertainment music." She wasn't kidding. The CD (recorded at the Concertgebouw Haarlem) is a classical accordion lover's dream: over 65 minutes of superb music played by a superb ensemble. The 19th century works are well played. My friend -- WQED-FM radio producer Paul Johnston -- was especially delighted by Rubinstein's charming Russisch en Trepak. All four movements of Boellmann's monumental organ opus Suite Gothique are performed with power and grace. I especially like the sound of the accordion orchestra, as the bass accordions provide a much deeper foundation than a regular accordion, on account of their more massive reeds. I have heard many solo accordion recordings of this piece, and all I find sonically lacking to some degree. This Alphen Opus 2 recording of Suite Gothique comes closest to the sonic depth of the original organ work as I have heard.
Although the 19th century works are excellent, my favorite pieces are the original works for accordion ensemble. Overall, I was extremely pleased, but I didn't think all the works were of the same quality, however; parts of Jack Kat's Four Moods seemed a bit superficial to me and the synthesizer part reminded me of a soundtrack for a B science fiction movie. However, the other works caught my eye, or should I say ear. Ad Wammes Boardwalk is a three-movement suite which really has the driving energy of a packed seaside amusement park. Henk op't Ende's Collection is another suite, this one in eight movements.
Lorre Lynn Trytten's A Witch's Capers was a fitting conclusion to the CD: a portrayal of one day (or night I should say) in the life of a witch. All the contemporary works on the CD were accessible; no atonal or a-rhythmic works. I think this CD will be appreciated by all classical accordion lovers. The CD booklet notes are short and written in Dutch and English.
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