Stephen GOSS (b.1964)
The Raw and the Cooked (Le Cru et le Cuit) (2004) [11:32]
Still the Sea (2009) [10:27]
Christopher William PIERCE (b.1975)
Adagio and Fugue (2007) [10:14]
Three Pieces (2009) [13:11]
Roland DYENS (b.1955)
Niterói (2010) [7:20]
Comme des Grands (2010) [10:40]
ChromaDuo (Tracy Anne Smith and Rob MacDonald (guitars))
rec. St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, 2-5 December 2010. DDD
NAXOS 8.572757 [63:28]
Although the packaging does not make it clear, this "debut recording" by Canadian guitar duo ChromaDuo (Tracy Anne Smith and Rob MacDonald) first appeared early in 2011, when the pair self-published it. At the time it was only available via the 'Discography' link on Smith's website, but now Naxos appear to have stepped in to facilitate access to fully-deserved wider audiences, perhaps aided by Smith's former guitar teacher Norbert Kraft, engineer for this recording and probably familiar to guitarophiles through his extensive recording catalogue - on Naxos.
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. Each composer supplies his own useful notes for the booklet.
Though not exactly a household name, Welsh composer Stephen Goss - entertainingly described by ChromaDuo as an "irreverent British powerhouse" - is no stranger to disc: his website lists more than 30 on which his music has appeared. 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 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 rather 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' meaning '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 Sea.
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 reacquaintance 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 and affable.
French-Tunisian composer Roland Dyens has also been recorded a few times - by Elena Papandreou on BIS (CD-1366), for example. 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 by ChromaDuo 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 mouthwateringly delightful pieces calling out for universal inclusion in guitar recitals.
Overall, the music on this disc is outstanding. Considerable credit is due to ChromaDuo for having the courage and conviction to record these new works and playing their part in expanding 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 Goss and Dyens. And who better to have perform it than Smith and MacDonald? 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 are unfailing.
Norbert Kraft should be commended for this recording, which is fine indeed. 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 they are barely perceptible, and certainly not a distraction.
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