American Music for Mandolin and Guitar
Tyler KAISER (b.1962)
The Fates [7:35]
Tom G. FEBONIO (b.1950)
Water Ballads, op.47 [16:36]
Timothy Dwight EDWARDS (b.1962)
Strange Attractor [6:33]
Lawrence AXELROD (b.1960)
Mark DELPRIORA (b.1959)
Jay GORDON (b.1956)
Jeffrey HARRINGTON (b.1955)
Indigo Trails [5:43]
Daniel Ahlert (mandolin)
Birgit Schwab (guitar)
rec. Burg Sternberg, Extertal, Germany, 12-13 October 2010. DDD
NAXOS 8.559686 [63:23]
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 respectively (8.557716).
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
An hour's worth of listening that ought to fly by.
see also review by John Whitmore