American Music for Mandolin and Guitar
Tyler KAISER (b.1962) The Fates [7:35]; Tom FEBONIO (b.1950)
Water Ballads [16:36];
Timothy EDWARDS (b.1962) Strange Attractor [6:33]; Lawrence
AXELROD (b.1960) Mercurials [6:31]; Mark DELPRIORA (b.1959)
Sonata [11:49]; Jay GORDON (b.1956) Daimonelix [7:52]; Jeffrey
HARRINGTON (b.1955) Indigo Trails[5:43]
Daniel Ahlert (mandolin)
Birgit Schwab (guitar)
rec. October 2010, Burg Sternberg, Extertal, Germany
NAXOS 8.559686 [62:08]
Mandolinist Daniel Ahlert and guitarist Birgit Schwab are a superb duo who
have been playing together for twenty years. Many of the works included on
this recording were written for this partnership. Their level of technique
and musicianship is highly assured throughout this recital devoted to American
contemporary music. The music is only contemporary in that the majority of
the programme was composed this century. There’s nothing contemporary
about the actual musical style of any of the pieces - it’s all tonal
and quite attractive but there’s nothing thorny or, to be frank, ground-breaking
and innovative. In reality the style is more popular than contemporary so
don’t expect any Webern or Boulez.
Personally this is the sort of CD that I would only dip into occasionally.
I find it all rather tiring on the ear for two reasons. First of all there
is very little dynamic contrast to be heard. Secondly, the timbre of the instruments
and the absence of a sustained singing tone get monotonous after a while.
This is a criticism of the instrumentation and not of the musicianship. I’m
sure that mandolin and guitar aficionados will be bowled over by the standard
of performance achieved here.
Tom Febonio’s Water Ballads is a suite of five short movements
with a charming, almost childlike simplicity. This is pleasant, tuneful music
and it’s very easy on the ear. The Fates and Strange Attractor
are well crafted with interesting rhythmic antiphonal effects between the
instruments. The stereo separation on the excellent Naxos recording allows
this interplay to come over with good effect. Mercurials is a set of
four short studies with contrasting moods but with a somewhat thin and limited
musical content. It sounds fun to play but not particularly interesting to
listen to. The Sonata by Mark Delpriora is in two contrasting movements,
one slow and melancholic, the other lively and - to quote the composer - giddy,
inspired as it was by lizards hopping from rock to rock in Italy. Giddy it
may be but it certainly has a good forward momentum to it and it is, after
Water Ballads, probably the best work on the disc. Daimonelix
was inspired by rock formations found in a remote region of Nebraska. The
music is a gentle, hushed rumination. The work captures the hushed serenity
of the landscape and on that basis it can be deemed a successful nature portrait.
Maybe it outstays its welcome, running as it does for eight minutes. It would
be interesting to hear an orchestral transcription. The instrumentation is,
as with many of the pieces in the recital, a handicap with the inherent lack
of contrast and dynamic. Indigo Trails covers much
the same ground as Daimonelix despite the claims of the composer that
the music is inspired by popular electronic rock and Middle Eastern music.
As with everything else on the disc it is brilliantly played.
Fine musicianship but lacks musical contrast.