All American music, it can be argued, represents a kind of hybrid, with forms and styles from somewhere else grafted onto roots that relate in some way to the local scene. The three musicians now performing “Appalachian Journey” on their latest album tour are already acclaimed in the classical world: cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who plays Bach’s abstruse Suites for Solo Cello better than anyone on earth nowadays, as well as violinist Mark O’Connor and bassist Edgar Meyer, both frequent participants with the Chamber Music Society of Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. Yet they have found a way to pool their talents in another kind of chamber music as well, to the delight of an almost-sold-out Royce Hall.
The threesome’s previous Sony disc, 1996’s “Appalachia Waltz,” reached high onto the charts. Like its predecessor, “Journey” is a blending in sound far better than its description in words. The works are short (average: 3½ minutes) and self-contained; the impulse and much of the tunesmithing is the infectious jiggedy-jog of American country fiddling (which owes much to Brit and Irish ancestry).
The sophisticated composer’s hand, however, is clearly in evidence, in the shaping of the tunes and in an overlay of harmonic spice that might go down rather hard in the West Virginia hills. Aaron Copland’s treatment of cowboy and Appalachian tunes in his much-honored ballet scores suggests an easy precedent.
O’Connor and Meyer have serious composing careers on their own; Meyer’s new concerto for violinist Hilary Hahn has been recorded on Sony and will turn up at Royce on Wednesday.
The two own up to most of the composing in “Appalachian Journey”; cellist Ma’s pre-concert confession, that his only original music happens “when I make mistakes,” should nevertheless be taken with a grain of salt.
In this exceptionally friendly new music by these Appalachia voyagers, the voices of old friends are often heard. Sounding through the irresistible virtuosic chatter of it all, certain further thoughts come to mind: a bending toward a minor harmony here and there as if a gypsy caravan had come into sight, a busy bit of fiddling that could come out of a dance suite by J.S. Bach.