African art music – a bridge between western classical forms and traditional melody and rhythm – has a determined champion in the Romanian-Nigerian pianist Rebeca Omordia. She has made her life’s work a quest to discover and perform the output of composers – often unpublished – from right across that great continent. Judging by her inaugural recital in this year’s African Concert Series, her determination is yielding fascinating results.
Imagine, if you can, a sensuous, serpentine Arabic melody in the left hand winding its way up towards a delicate filigree of sparkling stars in the right hand and you have something of the impression that Moroccan composer Nabil Benabdeljalil (b.1972) creates in his beautiful Nocturne No 4 from 2015. His romantic Nocturne No 6 from 2020, which expresses his intense joy at roaming the Middle Atlas mountains after lockdown, feels as though John Field himself might have been a ghostly presence at his side.
Christian Onyeji (b.1967) seeks to transfer Nigerian drumming techniques to the piano in his Ufie, Igbo Dance, which becomes a wild celebration of intense rhythm, captured dramatically by Omordia. His piece neatly mirrored the ideas of Akin Euba (1935-2020), who promoted interculturalism in composition and saw pianism as a means to express features of Nigerian traditional music. Euba’s Ore Meta uses percussion – performed here by Abdelkader Saadoun – to drive his sophisticated arrangement of a popular song from the Yoruba region. David Earl (b.1951) grew up in Stellenbosch. Princess Rainbow, from his Scenes from a South African Childhood, shimmers with a lyrical nostalgia as he recalls fishing on the river alongside his father.
Coming next month in the series: a whole day celebrating music and musicians from Africa at London’s Wigmore Hall on 5 February. Go – and have your eyes and ears opened.