North to South – Music from the Americas
Frederic HAND (b. 1947) Prayer [4:06]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937) Three Preludes: Prelude No. I [1:35]; Prelude No. II [3:36]; Prelude No. III [1:14]
John WILLIAMS (b. 1932) Schindler’s List [3:49]
Eduardo ANGULO (b. 1954) De Aires Antiguos [9:47]
Rogerio DENTELLO (b. 1967) Suite TnT: I. Preludio [2:29]; II. Choro [3:34]; III. Valsa Brasileira [3:40]; IV. Brincadeira [5:03]
Egberto GISMONTI (b. 1947) Agua e vinho [3:25]
Celso MACHADO (b. 1953) Paçoca (Choro) [3:06]; Pé de Moleque (Samba-Choro) [1:59]
Máximo Diego PUJOL (b. 1957) Sonatina Caótica [11:18]
Duo Trekel-Tröster – Steffen Trekel (mandolin), Michael Tröster (guitar)
rec. January 2010, SilentBanks Studio, Fuldabrück, Germany
THOROFON CTH 2571 [59:15]

In recent years I’ve come across some fine guitar recordings, among them the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet’s Brazilreview – and a most entertaining disc of Heinrich Albert guitar duos – review. 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.

Dan Morgan

Some much-needed sunshine on an otherwise grey, late December afternoon.