thoughtful, emotionally fleet and powerfully recorded
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Castillos de viento Hebert VÁZQUEZ (b. 1963)
El jardín del pasaje púrpura (1995) [6:03] Michael FRIDAY (b. 1961)
Five Haiku (2013) [8:48] Shafer MAHONEY (b. 1968)
Shining River (2007) [9:06] Chen YI (b. 1953)
Three Bagatelles from China West (2006/2014) [9:27] Jesse JONES (b. 1978)
Sonata (2015) [23:02]
Molly Alicia Barth (flute),
Dieter Hennings (guitar)
rec. Beall Concert Hall, University of Oregon, Eugene; Clonick Hall, Oberlin Conservatory (Jones); dates not given. INNOVA 982 [56:28]
Duo Damiana consists of Grammy-Award winning flutist Molly Alicia Barth and prizewinning and widely recorded guitarist Dieter Hennings, and we should count ourselves fortunate that these talents have joined forces and are on the side of performing new music.
The title of Hebert Vázquez’s El jardín del pasaje púrpura (‘the garden of the purple passage’) refers to a Japanese garden with cherry blossoms. The first section is characterised by virtuoso complexity, with vital rhythms and an intense interaction between the instruments, with a keen ear for detail of timbre and silence. This moves into a more meditative second section in which wisps of wind seem to flicker amongst the blossoms. The poetry of this opening work takes us nicely into Michael Fiday’s Five Haiku; “a set of varied reflections on texts by 17th century Japanese haiku master Matsuo Basho.” These haiku are all printed in the insert, so our imaginations are taken on flights of concentrated imagery that includes reflected moonlight, the chase of wildlife, folksong and inner journeys. Judicious use of instrumental effects add extra dimensions to both of these works, highlighting their musicality rather than waking us into avant-garde aversion, these musicians playing such elements as naturally as conventional notes and making everything sound ‘just right’.
Shining River by Shafer Mahoney is the first bit of tonal lyricism on this album, and it is perfectly placed to take us into a gentle and reflective realm at the heart of the programme. John Muir’s descriptions of water moving from the Sierra Nevada mountains in all its forms formed the inspiration for this superbly crafted and structured work. Chen Yi’s Three Bagatelles from China West is arrangement for flute and guitar of an original with piano. This is music that descends from the Chinese folk tradition, but written in a distinctive modern idiom, sending the flute into bamboo-flute heights, and using the guitar at times as something banjo-like. There is a quasi-jazz feel to some of this music, approaching something blues-like but keeping faith with its ethnicity, and delivering something with its own uniquely authentic attractiveness.
Jesse Jones’s Sonata “uses Classical forms and Romantic gestures within the framework of contemporary harmony.” This manifests itself in movements with Sonata and Rondo forms, but in music that skilfully gives each instrument both independence and unity of interaction. Tonalities are blurred but never entirely absent, so this is by no means atonal music. It does however have an enigmatic, abstract quality that gives the listener both imaginative space and intellectual stimulation. I love the expressive Lento third movement, and there is plenty of virtuosity and rhythmic spark elsewhere – this was after all written specially for Duo Damiana.
This is a well-recorded and superbly performed recital of some excellent new music for flute and guitar. It certainly kept me enthralled from beginning to end, so I have every faith it will do the same for you.
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