Evening Standard 10/04/2017
Jean-Guihen Queyras and Thrace, review: Loving alien sounds

The Wigmore Hall audience was enthralled by this refreshing cold shower.
With a scratchy bow scrape, pluck and slide, cellist  Jean-Cuihen Queyras threw us into a totally alienating world with his opening solo piece by Marco Stroppa. We got eerie harmonics, extreme low and high notes, and nothing that could be described as a tune. Afterwards, he said he liked to begin with this to open the ears to different scales and sound worlds. A refreshing cold shower.

Nobody fled and we were treated to a fantastic evening of new and thrilling music mainly from the eastern Mediterranean with Queyras’s Thrace quartet. Alongside the cello were Sokratis Sinopoulos on lyra, a three-stringed fiddle traditional in Crete and often played by angels in Renaissance frescoes, and Bijan and Keyvan Chemirani on Iranian frame and goblet drums. 

The concert alternated traditionally based compositions from Greek and Iranian sources with more austere classical repertoire by Lutoslawski, Kurtág and the aforementioned Stroppa. There were melodic dialogues between cello and lyra, with its piercing but delicate tone. 

The highlights were Khamse, a toe-tapping five-beat piece, and Sunday Morning, both of which appear on Thrace’s brilliant album Sunday Morning Sessions. Plus a tombak drum duet from the Chemirani brothers which was quiet, intricate and totally compelling.

Most interesting was the dialogue between the lyra, dating back to Byzantine times, and the cello, crafted to acoustic perfection. Distantly related, they are rarely heard together, but the Wigmore audience was enthralled.

Simon Broughton
Evening Standard 10/04/2017