Roy Whelden

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Galax Review

by Rick Anderson

The well-respected viola da gamba player Roy Whelden takes an unusual turn here, offering a program that combines his own modern compositions for the instrument with several late-baroque works of Carl Friedrich Abel, who is generally regarded as the last of the great viola da gamba virtuosi. The album's title, Galax, comes from one of Whelden's own compositions, a solo piece that includes traces of Appalachian fiddle music (and is named after the town of Galax, Virginia, home to the famous Galax Fiddle Convention). Interestingly, Whelden juxtaposes a quartet composition of his own with one of Abel's, inserting his own cantabile movement into Abel's quartet, and putting Abel's into his own. The effect is striking, and maybe not entirely musically successful -- Whelden's movement is attractive and accessible, but stylistically quite different from the rest of Abel's composition, and the switch is a bit jarring. Abel's cantabile movement fits very nicely into Whelden's more modern work, however. Whelden's solo pieces, which include a charmingly whimsical take on a classic Lennon and McCartney tune titled "Prelude and Divisions on She's So Heavy," are all starkly lovely. This album is a must-hear for any fan of either 20th century or Baroque music.