To judge by the cover, this CD is aimed at a groovier kind of listener. According to Champs Hill, Owen Gunnell and Oliver Cox's shared selling point is their "eclectic and charismatic approach", which, as the photos indicate, means being fun guys. They do play mean percussion though. Besides the occasional random reference in the notes, however, there is no indication anywhere as to the pair’s chosen instruments. Snapshots show them larking about with bongos, yet they perform here primarily on marimbas, deploying in some pieces a selection of other percussion. Maybe groovy people have no need for such facts, but most others would likely appreciate them, along with recording information, if possible!
O Duo's website describes their repertoire as "an invigorating mix of popular classics and accessible contemporary music", and that is indeed what is on offer here. The recital consists of four original works surrounded by light arrangements, presumably by Gunnell and Cox themselves, of bits and pieces from across the centuries - though predominantly J.S. Bach. Probably the pick of the bunch is Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu, the magic of which would be hard to suppress in any arrangement. None of the pieces really gains from being performed on the marimba, but even if Bartók might give a little shudder, nor is any real harm done: this is, as O Duo would say, just a bit of fun, and it is very tidily executed and communicated by the lads.
The original works, featuring the marimba plus other percussion, are successful to varying degrees. Two were written for O Duo: Edmund Jolliffe's football kickaround-inspired Knock About, minimalistic but foot-tapping, and Stephen McNeff's Baristas, which really is based on the sounds and rhythms of a coffee shop. Recorded Italianate voices included at the beginning set the scene for what McNeff describes as a "double espresso of an experience." In truth, O Duo run through a fairly mundane, mechanical routine - perhaps deliberate - which, though occasionally aromatic, leaves a rather decaffeinated taste.
Inspired by Japanese festival drumming, Minoru Miki's Marimba Spiritual has quite a bit more panache, and some dazzling playing, though the employment of 'festive' voices - presumably those of Gunnell and Cox - towards the end come across as rather self-indulgent. Dutch composer Jacob ter Veldhuis apparently started out as a rock musician, yet his Goldrush emerges as the most impressive music on this disc, as well as the longest. The composer suggests the listener "imagine people exploring new land in search of gold", which in the end they find, represented musically by crotales, chimes, glockenspiel and the like. In fact, O Duo get to use a whole battery of percussion, and there is a hint of the experimental jazz, occasionally rock, about this varied, tuneful work which seems to fire them.
Sound quality is very good and nicely balanced. The booklet notes give surprisingly straight, sober descriptions of the pieces. Though the CD itself makes no mention, a number of commercial sites on the internet mention that this CD was originally released at the end of 2006.
Light listening, in sum. And yes, quite fun.
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