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Duo Mandala: Tapestry
Bill CONNOR Krug: (2002) [8.14]
Julian DAWES Three Pieces for Mandolin and Harp: (1994): Waltz [2.30]; Phantasy [3.18]; Toccata [1.54]
David SUTTON-ANDERSON Mandalas: (1994-1995) [17.39]
Paul MITCHELL-DAVIDSON Tapestry: (1994-1995): Dance of Limewood, Smile of Ash [6.44]; A Joy of Wild Asses [5.20]; Harvest of the Quiet Eye [7.56]; A Full Moon Rising Red [12.11]
Alison Stephens (mandolin)
Lauren Scott (harp)
Recorded at Sennheiser Studio, Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, 9-11 September 2002
BLACK BOX BBM 1088 [65.53]


It appears to have been Austrian émigré composer Hans Gal who lit upon the ingenious combination duo of mandolin and harp for his Divertimento Op.80, written in 1968 … the year I met him. When these two players, Trinity College of Music students when they got together in 1991, came to play the work they realised the potential for such a partnership and began commissioning works so that they could thoroughly explore the colours, textures and sounds which both instruments produced in tandem. The result is a highly attractive disc, for both are masters of their instruments, playing with imaginative flair and technical skill. The music is distinguished, especially David Sutton-Anderson’s eight Mandalas, which fully explore both instruments’ more exotic qualities (a Mandala is a Buddhist image, usually of a deity) with more than enough variety and musical shape to sustain interest. Bill Connor’s Krug is thought-provoking and its message threateningly gloomy, yet full of vividly striking (literally) effects. Julian Dawes provides three brief movements of highly accessible music, including a charming Waltz, while Julian Mitchell-Davison’s substantive four-movement contribution is based on The Saxon Tapestry by Sile Rice. The music is evocative, almost a sound-track to the poetic imagery of the book, particularly the beautifully haunting melody of The Harvest of the Quiet Eye. A mandolinist himself, Mitchell-Davison challenges Alison Stephens with all sorts of virtuosic hurdles, ‘chords using extended fingering, voicings using unusual combinations of stopped and open strings, fourth string glissandi, fast arpeggios and string skipping’. Needless to say she meets them head on and with consummate ease. Most striking of all is the eerie presence of Chopin in Joy of Wild Asses, a processional theme on the harp (Jesus rode such an animal on his last journey into Jerusalem) accompanied on the mandolin by a bizarrely skittering atonal obbligato. Rhythmic energy and vibrant effects demanded of both instruments dominate the final track, an exciting movement called A Full Moon Rising Red. Tapestry makes a fine conclusion to a fine disc, which I recommend most highly. Now one awaits further exploration of and by this combination, perhaps next time securing commissions from women composers.

Christopher Fifield


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