In recent years I’ve come across some fine guitar recordings,
among them the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet’s Brazil –
– and a most entertaining disc of Heinrich Albert guitar duos
Both proved an unexpected pleasure, combining original programmes
with playing of grace and good humour. Both ensembles were unknown
to me at the time, which is true of Duo Trekel-Tröster until
now. Steffen Trekel is described in the liner-notes as ‘one
of the world’s leading mandolin players’, while guitarist Michael
Tröster is similarly lauded. Usually I don’t set much store
by these effusive biographies, but after listening to this recital
I’m not about to argue.
This combination of instruments is unusual, but American guitarist-composer
Frederic Hand’s Prayer is very effective in the way it
blends the guitar’s warm tones with the florid steeliness of
the mandolin. Not only is it a most affecting piece, it’s also
buoyed by a strong sense of collaborative music-making. That’s
a quality I admired in both the LAGQ and Albert recordings I
mentioned earlier. This new disc is also warmly recorded in
an intimate yet airy acoustic. A promising start, but I did
find the first and third of the Gershwin preludes – originally
written for solo piano – a tad short on charm and rhythmic vitality.
That said, the slow, rather wistful second prelude is much more
engaging, the mandolin sounding remarkably like a banjo at times.
Gershwin was no stranger to popular music, and that’s true of
movie maestro John Williams too. The latter’s sweeping film
scores are among the most memorable of the past 30 years or
so, although I feel neither he – nor Spielberg – are at their
very best in Schindler’s List. It’s an undeniably haunting
piece, but does it work in this arrangement? Not entirely; yes,
it has some heartfelt moments – the final bars especially –
but there’s a curious sense of detachment elsewhere. Which is
a pity, as the playing is splendid throughout.
Moving south of the border we have Mexican Eduardo Angulo’s
De Aires Antiguos, an affectionate homage to the enduring
traditions of his homeland. There’s a pithy quality to the writing,
notably in the more animated passages, counterbalanced by more
easeful episodes. Rhythms are beautifully managed, the mandolin
adding plenty of piquancy to the mix. This is just what one
expects of a disc devoted to music of the Americas, a range
of exotic flavours and textures that makes the comparatively
bland Williams piece seem even less appropriate in this company.
No such quibbles about Rogerio Dentello’s punning Suite
TnT, written for Trekel and Tröster. From its meandering
Preludio – the guitar’s lower notes especially well caught –
to the glittering embellishments of Choro and on to the
slow, sultry Brazilian waltz, where the mandolin adds a cooling
spray to the mellow sounds of the guitar. It’s a gorgeous, very
sensuous, juxtaposition, reprised the freewheeling ‘fun and
games’ of Brincadeira. The easy rhythms and pin-sharp
precision of these players is a joy to hear; indeed, this is
the sunniest, most endearing piece on the disc, and one whose
charms refuse to fade even after repeated listening.
Fellow Brazilian Egberto Gismonti carries this congenial theme
through to Aguar e vinho, the warm glow that accompanies
a fine wine reflected in the honeyed tones of the guitar. Without
wishing to condemn this music to the ghetto of ‘easy listening’,
this repertoire does lend itself to relaxed, postprandial auditioning.
Celso Machado’s Paçoca, which refers to a peanut dish
from north Brazil, is no less appetising; it’s slightly lopsided
rhythms are beautifully judged, the tangy mandolin entirely
apt. As for Pé de Moleque, a samba-choro that takes its
name from a peanut and sugar delicacy, one could be forgiven
for thinking Trekel and Tröster were Brazilians born and bred,
such is the fluency and idiomatic nature of their playing.
Máximo Diego Pujol’s three-movement Sonatina Caótica, rigorous
in its structure and extremes of timbre, is certainly not as
random as its title might suggest. Again, I was struck by the
rapport between these players, who articulate and shape their
parts with sensitivity and style, even in the wilder passages.
The effervescent Presto is as good a snapshot of this duo’s
abilities as anything else on this disc; one can only marvel
at their nimble fingerwork and seemingly intuitive response
to the music’s shifting colours and rhythms.
‘North to South’ may not be the most inspiring title for a CD,
but don’t let that put you off. Indeed, this disc provided some
much-needed sunshine on an otherwise grey, late December afternoon.
Thorofon’s liner-notes offer a sensible amount of detail on
the works played – always useful where relatively new or unknown
repertoire is concerned – and the recording is beyond reproach.
Guitar and mandolin buffs will want to hear this collection;
anyone who relishes first-class musicianship – or wants something
slightly different – should do the same.