Many people will doubtless be surprised to hear there is any
music for mandolin and guitar, let alone the American subset
promised by this latest addition to Naxos's great 'American
Classics' series. There is plenty from the last couple of centuries
written for two guitars, but the idea of replacing one of them
with a mandolin, despite that instrument's own long history,
seems to have occurred to very few composers. The early nineteenth
century Austrian Karl Stefan von Aichelburg's first four published
works were for this combination, but he was one of Europe's
few composing mandolin virtuosos.
As it happens, most of the works featured here were actually
written for Daniel Ahlert and Birgit Schwab, who have almost
duo-handedly established a repertoire for their instruments.
Nearly a decade ago they recorded a similar kind of programme
for the Antes Edition label - see review.
Yet it would be unfair not to mention too Alison Stephens and
Craig Ogden, whose two CDs for Chandos (CHAN 9780 in 1999 (review)
and CHAN 10563 a decade later) blazed a trail for many of the
modern composers who have written something for guitar and mandolin.
The seven featured composers in Ahlert and Schwab's genial recital,
though hardly big names, are connected by the fact that they
are all living Americans born in the Fifties or Sixties. For
all that, none of the works is particularly contemporary-sounding.
Indeed, any might be placed anywhere within the last century
or so. All the music is tonal and generally tuneful, unlikely
to offend the ear even of those whose only vaguely similar CD
purchase to date was "Craig Ogden: The Guitarist". There is
little dynamic or tonal contrast in any of the items, but mood,
tempo, rhythm and style are skilfully varied by each composer
to produce an hour's worth of listening that ought to fly by.
At worst, as relaxing background music it is easy to play the
CD almost on a continuous loop. There are no weak pieces in
the programme - all have something to say in an imaginative
or attractive way. The two longest works, Tom Febonio's Water
Ballads and Mark Delpriora's full-blown Sonata, will
likely be most people's choices as the ones that must be kept
alive in the recital hall: the first for its beauty, the second
for its depth.
In any case, Ahlert and Schwab give committed, dexterous readings
that benefit from two decades of harmonious and intuitive partnership.
Their first recording for Naxos about five years ago featured
sonatas for lute and mandolin by Silvius Weiss and Johann Hoffman
Sound quality is excellent, with one instrument in each channel
providing a realistic-sounding stereo. The accompanying notes
provide a biography of the composers, they themselves offering
a brief comment on their pieces.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
see also review by John