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Joseph KREUTZER (1790-1840) Grand Trio in F major Op.16
Frank CAMPO (b. 1927) Preludes Op.51
Andor KOVACH (b. 1915) Trio No.1 (Musique d’Automne)
Antonino MADDONNI (b. 1960) Introduzioni e variazioni sulla "Follia"
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) Ouverture da "L’Italiana in Algeri"
Trio Mauro Giuliani: Vincenzo Mastropirro (flute); Giambattista Ciliberti (clarinet); Antonino Maddonni (guitar)
WARNER FONIT 5050466-3304-2-0 [59’40]

Judging this CD by listening to the first few bars of the Kreutzer Trio would risk sending it to the shelf marked ‘musical wallpaper’. A big mistake. True, the overall sound of the Kreutzer does indeed conjure up an elegant cocktail party, the mellifluous blend of flute and clarinet against an elegant guitar accompaniment creating the perfect background to civilized conversation. And none the worse for that.

With all respect to the easy listening of history (Victorian salon piano music, the ilk of Coates and German, lounge jazz), the Classical period’s stock of banal phrases, predictable harmonies and simple-minded accompaniments puts it in a class of its own. Kreutzer made full use of this toolbox in his Grand Trio (why ‘Grand’?) and the result is charming and undemanding. It is also beautifully played by this unusually-constituted ensemble for which there seems to be a fairly limited original repertoire. A pity, because the blend of the two wind instruments works better over the contrasting plucked strings of the guitar than they might over the soft hammers of a piano, particularly a modern grand.

Fortunately, there is far more to this CD than background for a dinner party. Campo’s Preludes, written in memory of friends who died in a fire, is a serious work written for this combination. In its span of merely seven minutes, it is melancholy and agitated with a painfully acidic vocabulary suggesting the flickering of the murderous fire. The flute and clarinet intertwine with precision tuning, often without vibrato for agonising effect. A modern but completely comprehensible musical language is artfully used to create a coherent and affecting whole. I look forward to hearing more of the work of Campo, a professor at California State University. He has produced music that includes pieces for brass and guitar, solo and in various combinations,

Kovach’s Trio is a kind of ‘easy listening’ Bartók whose harmonic language is used on folksy tunes to agreeable effect, reminiscent of the wind-based neo-classicism of Stravinsky. The delightful translation of ‘ostinato’ as ‘obstinate’ in the liner notes is spot-on for the first movement, while some poised, elegiac playing by flute and clarinet in the Largo reinforces the ‘Autumn’ subtitle of the work. The dance-based finale winds up another charming work, again very well-played. Kovach’s music, which includes five operas, deserves to be better known.

The Trio’s guitarist Antonino Maddonni contributes his own Introduction and Variations on "La Folia", a worthwhile and entertaining addition to the 250 or so examples composed since the tune first became popular in the sixteenth century (see a comprehensive list at Ravel, Milhaud and Claude Bolling turn up at a Rio beach café in this delightful mélange of jazzy counterpoint, baroque dance (a stately sarabande) and Latin rhythms. In the final variation, the guitar comes out in its full Latin colours as the ancient tune emerges as a Brazilian rumba through the texture of wind flutter-tonguing and percussion effects. Great fun.

The CD is completed by a rollicking version of Rossini’s Italian Girl Overture, reminding one that the flute was a favourite ‘arrangements’ instrument in Rossini’s day. Small forces versions of orchestral works often work extremely well and this is no exception. Having played Sousa marches in a recorder quartet, this trio seems like a mighty combination in comparison. Even the ‘Rossini steamroller’ effect works, suggesting that crescendo is more a matter of generating tension rather than volume. It is often the little throwaway phrases – the turns, twiddles and swooping scales - that define the character of Rossini’s music best.

I was surprised and captivated by this CD which provided a wide variety of styles and depths with equal proficiency. The recording is excellent and the disc strongly recommended.

Roger Blackburn

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