The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores
CD Review: Dancas Ocultas
Total Time: 39:00
Review by Steve Mobia
The diatonic accordion is directly linked to folk music. Its portability and reasonable cost made it a favorite of immigrants settling around the world. By having a different note on the push than on the pull, more notes could be compressed into a smaller fingerboard space. Even today, given a choice of accordions, many folk musicians still prefer the diatonic for performances and make claim for its unique articulation caused by the constant pushing and pulling to get certain tones.
It isn't often that a musician with classical training would prefer a diatonic accordion as it has obvious limitations in range, phrasing and lack of chromatic scales. But Artur Fernandes is such a person and his group "Dancas Ocultas" from Portugal have released a CD of the same name. It's a pleasant melodic album that features 4 diatonic accordions without accompaniment. The tunes are simple, resonant and go back and forth between classical sounding and folk sounding pieces. A few are traditional, most newly composed.
Though Fernandes' early work with the diatonic accordion was in the folk tradition, his interest in classical music led him to teach his students Verdi and Bach. Later with 3 of his best students he formed "Dancas Ocultas." In addition to teaching and performing with the group, Fernandes composes music for theater, dance and film.
One unusual effect that caught my attention was the rhythmic use of the air button by one or more of the players creating an additional propulsion to the music. The first and last tracks consist entirely of these syncopated breathing rhythms. There are also richer chords than can be accomplished on a single diatonic accordion.
The playing style is deliberately unornamented and lyrical. This will surely endear some listeners to the music. Others may get impatient with the stripped down melodies and repeating squared off sections. Erik Satie was an obvious inspiration for one piece, Noc(c)turno das 7 and Satie's belief in simplicity seems to guide the group on all the tracks. Perhaps this is a reaction to the virtuoso button box style of some folk performers.
According to Fernandes, since the 1990s there has been a great resurgence among the young in traditional Portuguese music and instruments which were considered old fashioned. Even Pop and Rock performers have gravitated to hurdy-gurdies, bagpipes and the diatonic accordion. Though I was hoping to hear the diatonic accordion used in a serious modern context, this album really doesn't break the instrument free of its folk music ties. Traditional harmonies, tonalities, and meters dominate. But it does have several inspired melodies and makes for a pleasurable if unchallenging listening experience.
The recording quality is good though the volume is uneven. The breathing pieces are too loud and certain numbers would have been more effective played softer. There is no English (or other language) translation of the Portuguese program notes and track titles.
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