This is a self-published CD by Canadian guitar duo Tracy Anne
Smith and Rob MacDonald, a.k.a. ChromaDuo, produced by guitarist
and Smith's former teacher Norbert Kraft. His name will probably
be familiar to guitarophiles through his extensive catalogue
on Naxos. This disc, which consequently comes unlabelled and
without catalogue number, is ostensibly only available via the
'Discography' link on Smith's website.
At first glance this may seem like vanity publishing, but there
is no question that Smith and MacDonald are two very fine guitarists.
It is not that the music in their chosen programme is particularly
virtuosic - much of it is quite slow and straightforward, in
fact - but their intonation, expressiveness and musical intelligence
The recital consists of two works each by three composers from
different traditions, including five premiere recordings, four
of which were commendably commissioned by ChromaDuo.
Though not exactly a household name, Welsh composer Stephen
Goss - entertainingly described in the CD notes as an "irreverent
British powerhouse" - is no stranger to disc: his website
lists more than 30 on which his music has appeared. Nor will
he be unfamiliar to MusicWeb International readers - see recent
The fleeting sections of The Raw and the Cooked
may be performed in almost any order, according to Goss, although
the way they have been edited precludes much experimentation
in a CD player. Goss also says that "any number of movements"
can be played, and though the notes do not indicate it, ChromaDuo
have actually selected nine out of the full set of twelve. They
begin with the jazzy 'Hot', Goss's self-evident tribute to Django
Reinhardt. This is probably not the best choice to open with,
because it all but sets the wrong tone for the rest of the work,
which is generally sober, lyrical and restrained. In fact, most
of the other sections seem to dovetail very nicely - ingeniously
- into one another, whereas 'Hot' sounds a little like an afterthought.
'The Raw' and 'The Cooked' of the title are both solos for each
guitarist, as well as references to Goss's two kinds of borrowing
from other sources - 'raw' meaning obvious, 'cooked' hidden
in the texture. Goss's second work, the vivid, evocative Still
the Sea, is a homage to Toru Takemitsu and a play on the
title of one of Takemitsu's most popular guitar works, Toward
The two works by American composer and guitarist Christopher
Pierce both owe a debt to Johann Sebastian Bach. Pierce's inspiration
for the imaginative Adagio and Fugue came in part from
his re-acquaintance at the piano with Bach's Preludes and
Fugues, transforming their formality, as he writes, into
a "surreal landscape", in particular through the use
of occasional string bending and campanella fingering. The final
section of the Three Pieces is based on Alexander Ziloti's
well-known arrangement of Bach's Prelude in E minor BWV 855a.
Pierce's title is very modest: these are three glorious specimens
of guitar writing, coursing with energy yet impressively easy-going
French Tunisian composer Roland Dyens has also been recorded
a few times - by Elena Papandreou on BIS, for example, reviewed
The first of his two marvellous works in this collection, Niterói,
gives its name to the CD - the word apparently means "hidden
waters" in the Amerindian Tupi language - and is a fast-flowing
tour de force for both guitars, bristling with Brazilian
syncopation, difficult manoeuvres, great flashes of inspiration
and a unique style. Dyens, intriguingly described in the notes
as the "incomparable Parisian", occasionally takes
the guitar into a parallel universe of sonorities and technique,
without ever becoming listener-unfriendly. Comme des Grands
is more restrained, but deliberately so: in Dyens' words, the
work is intended "to introduce less-experienced players
to some of the most artful and musical elements of the guitar
[...] a unique balance of child-like innocence expressing grown-up
sentiments". The three sections, 'Gloomy Light', 'The Mushroom'
and 'White-faced Clown', are mouth-wateringly delightful pieces
calling out for universal inclusion in guitar recitals.
The recording is very good. The CD does admit to mastering,
but anything that has been done has been done tastefully - this
still sounds like an 'unprocessed' recording. Passing traffic
outside the church venue is still very faintly audible in some
quieter passages, and there are one or two other odd noises
here and there, but barely perceptible, and certainly not distracting.
There is no CD booklet as such - track listings, composers'
notes on their works, technical details and ChromaDuo photo
and preamble - are printed on the foldout card that makes up
the CD case; an attractive package, in its way.
The music on this disc is outstanding. Considerable credit is
due to ChromaDuo for having the courage and conviction to record
these new works. Perhaps they will establish a trend to expand
the guitar repertoire beyond the stalwart standards? So much
excellent and very accessible solo and duo guitar music is still
being written - not least by Stephen Goss and Roland Dyens.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk