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.  

John Whitmore
Fine musicianship but lacks musical contrast.