This is definitely
the kind of record I most certainly
would have overlooked when browsing
through the boxes in my record store
or skimming the new releases list in
some music magazine. It contains music
for the unlikely – or at least unusual
– combination of mandolin and guitar.
It is all contemporary music by names
unknown to me and I can’t even remember
seeing the record company’s name before.
But being a reviewer
can bring unexpected positive surprises
and this is one of those. To begin with
the technical side of the project is
superb. The very first bars of the first
piece at once reveal an open, warm sound,
very lifelike with perfect balance between
the two instruments. The numerous percussive
effects they use, knocking and banging
their instruments, are well integrated
in the sound-picture. The combination
is also a nice one, very much like the
worldly-wise and serious guitar saying
the right things while the frisky and
uproarious mandolin chatters and makes
faces. Their interplay is immaculate,
as should be the case with two musicians
who have worked together since 1992.
And so the music, all
of which was written for the Ahlert-Schwab
Duo, commissioned by them and dedicated
to them. Don’t be put off by the "contemporary"
label. This is mostly very accessible
music, but in very different ways. Take
the very first piece, Minstrels,
by Frenchman Claude Engel, who
has played with such names as Charles
Aznavour, Serge Gainsbourg, Sid Vicious
of Sex Pistols, Astor Piazzola and Herbie
Hancock, here creates a medieval atmosphere,
evoking jesters and jugglers and still
reminding the listener that the music
belongs to our time as well. Then there’s
the Bulgarian dance, where he
adopts some kind of 7/8 rhythm.
German composer Thomas
on an own theme is very beautiful,
melodic, not quite variations in the
traditional sense of the word, where
he develops the theme but rather a constant
change of moods. Parts of the 12-minute-long
composition could function as background
for relaxation, even meditation, but
the landscape that passes by the window
on our journey through the work is ever-changing:
now an open field, next a jagged mountain,
and there a majestic river. A very fascinating
Sphinx is a darker, more threatening
work, the threat underlined by the guitarist,
I presume, who produces ominous, timpani-like
sounds. There is beauty also, creeping
in, but in a distanced way, making the
music as inscrutable as its title.
Also Chris Rupert
uses percussive effects in his Nowhere
left to go. It is a suggestive,
rhythmically alert, oriental piece,
which could be an episode from the soundtrack
of a film, showing somebody walking
through narrow backstreets in, say,
Cairo. I liked it a lot.
Oriental is also Jeffrey
Harrington’s Erg. The inspiration
was his wife’s experience when she as
a teenager visited Morocco and witnessed
a small Saharan desert town slowly being
eaten by a giant sand dune, called an
Erg. But the composition also contains
still darker sides, emanating from Harrington
following, on September 11, the World
Trade Center disaster from a rooftop
in lower Manhattan. He found it difficult
to write music at all after that, but
Erg, which he had begun earlier, became
a healing study for him. I don’t know
if there is a symbolism in the music’s
gradually dying away in the end. Maybe
Harrington feels that his own trauma
is also dissolving ...
The Bulgarian Ivan
Shekov’s Suite Mediteran
rounds off the disc. In four short movements
he tries to catch the atmosphere of
the Mediterranean area. It’s mostly
soft music and to my ears rather anonymous
compared to what has been going on before.
The final movement has a little more
"go" or Sicilian "heat"
if you like, and brings the disc to
a satisfying end.
The booklet contains
good notes in three languages and the
artist portraits and analyses are written
by the composers, which of course gives
even more authenticity to the project.
I recommend this disc
with all possible enthusiasm to anyone
curious about what is going on in at
least one niche of the contemporary
music scene. It shows that "new"
music in what can roughly be called
the classical field is not a concert
just for the already converted. To me
this has been one of the most fascinating
listening experiences for a long time!