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Duo Amaris
rec. 2019, Concert Hall of Abtei Marienmunster, Germany
PASCHEN RECORDS PR200060 [52:50]

An important aspect of duo performance is the balance between the accompanist and the lead, with the former not dominating the latter The percussive nature of the piano, and the sustain of stringed instruments, such as the violin, can easily overpower even a strong voice; not so with iconic accompanists like Gerald Moore, the unsung heroes of Western Art music.

While the guitar has many virtues, sustain and volume are not among them. However, these two shortcomings can make it the ideal accompanying instrument. The eminent 18/19th century guitarists Fernando Sor and Mauro Giuliani both wrote duets for guitar and voice. Guitarist Napoleon Coste (1805-83) arranged favoured music of the day for the same combination. In more recent times Heitor Villa-Lobos arranged his exquisite Bachianas brasileiras No. 5 (Aria) for voice and guitar.

This recording presents music for guitar and voice by four eminent composers of the 19/20th centuries. All of the music has been arranged, from the original, for voice and guitar. The title of the disc, Nachtstücke (Night Pieces), derives from the title of the Schubert song Nachtstück D672. In selecting the programme, the peace and contentedness exuded by this song have influenced the final choices, and on audition one may conclude that the selection has been made very successfully. Much care and attention has been given to the guitar part in an effort to achieve an ‘organic’ sound to the accompaniment and to employ the key best suited to the guitar, and the range of the singer. While the broad theme of ‘the night ‘predominates, the artists have tried to address issues such as playability, as well as an exploration of musical and timbral possibilities.

Duo Amaris comprises mezzo-soprano Julia Spies and guitarist Jesse Flowers. The duo formed as a result of the two musicians’ success at the German National Music Competition in 2016. They have performed numerous song recitals throughout Germany as part of the 61 National Concerts for young artists 2017/2018 season and this is their debut recording.

Julia Spies studied at Detmold University of Music where she obtained her Bachelors and Masters degrees. In 2019, she completed her Konzertexamen at the Hochschule fur Musik und Tanz Koln. Her musical activities embrace recitals, participation in opera productions, and diverse ensembles.

Born in Sydney, Australia, Jesse Flowers completed his Bachelor of Music at the Australian National University, and then undertook further studies with Tilman Hoppstock in Darmstadt. He subsequently entered the Berlin University of Arts, undertaking a Masters with Thomas Muller-Pering. He is the winner of several prestigious International guitar competitions.

There are few areas of music in which subjectivity plays a greater role than preferences for the human voice. That said, it is hard to not like the beautiful voice of singer Julia Spies. All executions, even more difficult passages, are done with what sounds like consummate ease. Phrasing is impressive and intonation is as would be anticipated from an artist of this calibre. Listening to the entire disc, one is left with no sense of ‘aural fatigue’, a phenomenon not uncommon with the timbre of certain voices. A prime example springs to mind, but reference to it would probably create more controversy than serving the point.

Jesse Flowers plays the role of an empathetic and highly capable accompanist, reflecting much thought and preparation in the task at hand. This is probably embellished by the oneness the duo shares, also the way in which the music has been arranged, in all instances by guitarists. Especially in the solo introductions, he demonstrates an impressive command of the instrument.

All things considered, it is challenging to offer anything other than praise for this recording. It can be confidently recommended as a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining and luminous experience in voice/guitar duets.

Zane Turner

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
1 Romance [1:51]
2 Le son du cor [2:42]
3 L’echelonnement [1:27]
4 Les Angelus [2:00]
5 Beau soir [2:21]

Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Tonadillas en estile antiguo 0:58]
6 El majo timido [0:58]
7 La maja dolorosa [2:23]
8 El mirar de la maja [2:57]
9 El tralala y el punteado [1:09]
10 Lamaja de Goya [3:04]

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1928)
11 An den Mond [2:58]
12 Nachtgesang [3:07]
13 Die Nacht [3:37]
14 Wonne der Wehmut [1:07]
15 Nachtviolen [2:34]
16 Nachtstück 5:07]
17 Am Flusse [1;45]

Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
Siete canciones populares Espanolas
18 El pano moruno [1:21]
19 Seguidilla murciana [1:15]
20 Asturiana [2:17]
21 Jota [3:12]
22 Nana [1:13]
23 Cancion [1:03]
24 Polo [1:18]

Reference recordings
Russian Romantic Songs Harmonia Mundi HMU 907386
Kaia Urb, Heiki Matlik
Songs for the Guitar BIS CD 293
Christina Hogman and Jakob Lindberg
Duets with Spanish Guitar    EMI CDM 7 63256 2
Laurindo Almeida and Salli Terri
Fernando Sor    Philips 411030 1
Teresa Berganza and Jose Miguel Moreno
Pleasures of Their Company   EMI 7777-47196-2
Kathleen Battle and Christopher Parkening

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