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Nowhere left to go: Music for mandolin and guitar
Claude ENGEL (b. 1948) Minstrels; Sonate; Danse Bulgare; Thomas SCHMIDT-KOWALSKI (b. 1949) Variationen über ein eigenes Thema op 92; Jürgen MEYER-METZENTHIN (b. 1955) Sphinx; Chris RUPERT (b. 1965) Nowhere left to go; Jeffrey HARRINGTON (b. 1955) Erg; Ivan SHEKOV (b. 1942) Suite Mediteran op 77 La Calle de Gibraltar – Provence – The Castle of Malta – Sicilia
Daniel Ahlert (mandolin), Birgit Schwab (guitar)
Recorded October, 2003 at Forum der Erich-Göpfert Stadthalle Unna.
ANTES EDITION BM 31.9195 [58:18]


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 Schmidt-Kowalski’s Variations 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 piece!

Jürgen Meyer-Metzenthin’s 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!

Göran Forsling



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