The Mexican Connection
Gabriela ORTIZ (b.1964)
Mambo Ninón [11:02]
All at Sevens and Eights [11:24]
Lilia Vázquez KUNTZE (b.1955)
Sendero Naciente [10:04]
Catherine LIKHUTA (b.1981)
The Secrets of Water [9:56]
Enrico CHAPELA (b.1974)
Spectrax [9:07]
Arturo MÁRQUEZ (b.1950)
Danzón No.6–Puerto Calvario arr. Howie [7:25]
Miriama YOUNG
This Earthly Round [9:41]
Tremor [1:32]
Alan Ahued NAIME
Brain Freeze (Sphenopalatine Ganglioneuralgia) [1:32]
Mauricio CASTAÑO
Angkor [1:11]
HD Duo: Michael Duke (saxophones): David Howie (piano)
rec. December 2015 and February 2016, Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Sydney University
CALA CACD77021 [72:22]

The idea behind this release is a project sponsored by the Council on Australian Latin American relations which allowed the HD Duo to “undertake a Mexican-Australian exchange program involving composers and concerts in both countries”, in the words of the accompanying promotional material that arrived with the disc. The repertoire is new music for saxophone and piano that stems directly from the project – both well established and young composing talent is involved.

One of the pleasing things programmatically is the variety to be heard throughout this 72-minute disc. Gabriela Ortiz’s Mambo Ninón is an evocative tribute to the diva Ninón Sevilla, a heroine of Mexican films, in which impressionistic elements burgeon into rich rhythmically vital paragraphs of unbridled brio and lyricism. A slow mid-section panel leads on to a sparkling up-tempo close full of excitement and gleaming vitality. Most of the pieces are what I’d call medium-sized at around 11 or so minutes; enough time to stretch out but not long enough to risk torpor. Though he was born in New Zealand Paul Sarcich spent many years in Australia. His wittily titled All at Sevens and Eights starts gruffly but opens out warmly and sympathetically, for the piano as well as the saxophone – a democratic meeting of instruments here before some rolling vibrancy is injected.

Lilia Vázquez Kuntze’s three-movement Sendero Naciente embodies attractively withdrawn writing as well as much that is elegantly fluid. Her finale is gently uplifting; a touching piece, this, and rather beautiful. Liquidity is the name of the game for Ukraine-born, Australian-resident Catherine Likhuta, whose The Secrets of Water anatomises florid wave motions, overtone blowing, ruminative quiescence and then sinewy and squally writing over an angry-sounding piano. There’s one especially stormy petrel sax cry. It all goes to show our ultimate ambivalence about the elemental power of the sea.

Enrico Chapela, born in Mexico City, employs multiphonics for the alto sax in Spectrax where there’s a zesty circular-sounding groove at work. Pianist David Howie has arranged Arturo Márquez’s Danzón – a veritable Mexican second National Anthem – and the results are alluring indeed and very exciting in this vivid performance. Miriama Young denounces “climate change deniers” – they seem second only to Holocaust deniers these days in the liberal lexicon of abuse – in her This Earthly Round. Given it’s a ound, it goes on a bit and – in the composer’s word – “corrodes” as it progresses but it doesn’t impress. The three very brief pieces that end the programme are engaging, not least the student work by Mauricio Castaño that was workshopped to be included in this programme.

They end a finely played programme, with excellent notes, and good recording values.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Rob Barnett

Support us financially by purchasing this from