Akerman Teixeira Guitar Duo: Music for 2 Guitars, Mary Akerman and Robert Teixeira, guitars. Transcriptions of Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas, K.9 & K.113; Gioachino Rossini: Overture from Il barbiere di Siviglia; Johannes Brahms: Theme and Variations, Op. 18; & Isaac Albéniz: Tango and Castilla. Original works for two guitars by Miroslav Lončar: Who Is Eve?; Atanas Ourkouzounov: Horo; Luis Bonfá: Manhã de Carnaval and Samba de Orfeu; & Jorge Morel: Danza Brasilera. Clear Note Publications © 2010,6725 Riverside Drive, Powell, OH 43065, eleven tracks, TT 57 minutes, available from Amazon and iTunes.

The Guitar Duo experience is distinguished in the same way as any ensemble; the thing should sound like a whole instead of a bunch of parts. In the case of two guitars, when one puzzle part should be more obvious than another it requires half of the band. Hence the listening criteria and baseline can get a little complicated. In short; the players should agree on technique – if not outright mesh – and their instruments should be fairly well matched.

In the last 100 years there are four benchmark guitar duos: Spain’s Miguel Llobet and his student/peer Argentine Maria Luisa Anido in about 1930; Europe based Presti-Lagoya Duo, active from 1955-1967, the first significant duo of the recording era; and then the Abreu Brothers, Sergio and Eduardo, with a series of stunning and groundbreaking recordings (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkaL2oDZ3S4) by Columbia Records in 1968. These Brazilian brothers, separated in age by only eleven months, brought a new intimacy and almost genetic phrasing to performances. Using a pair of matched Hausers they breathed as one. Soon another set of brothers appeared, Sergio and Odair Assad, from Brazil, who are still touring in 2011 with the same uncanny sense of fraternal synchronism. They have added Sergio’s composition and arranging skills to further broaden programming and repertoire.

In the U.S. starting in the late 80s the married duos of Newman-Oltman and Castellani-Andriaccio led a new wave with strong management, main-stream programming and measured appearances. But since then the field has become crowded as a younger generation, with more education, earlier technical training and finely honed skills have sprouted like mushrooms, with agents, recordings, and festival appearances. Using personalized repertoire and social media as marketing tools, the competition is intense, but it is hard to ignore the recent emergence of SoloDuo, Italian virtuosos Matteo Mela and Lorenzo Micheli. Overlooking an ill-defined and rushed Bach segment I heard in 2011, their brilliantly clear technique, breathless interpretive gestures, and excellent repertoire have generated a distinctive reputation for high artistry.

Now, Mary Akerman and Robert Teixiera in the United States (Americans of all things!) arrive with a debut CD and herald the ear in a way that invites comparison to these distinguished predecessors. While they studied at the same school and had the same teacher, the players are unrelated. Their homes are physically separated by 240 miles, and while operating on restrictive schedules these two musicians have figured out a way to make program choices and map out interpretive priorities; pretty tall variables. Their program follows standard expectations and the usual format but there is something very interesting here.

The Rossini transcription is by A. H. Varlet and dates from 1821. It starts off as one of those amateur potpourri-type editions common during the 19th century, but after some adjustments this one actually has the meat of the original score; excellent playing, and wonderful give/take.

Their historic Brahms, one of my least favorite composers (it’s personal), is frustratingly precise, accurate, and imbued with the characteristic devices that clarify and propel interpretive gestures to the fore in a work intended for six instruments. It is a wonderfully broad, sensitive, and expressive reading where the segments breathe without actual breaks in between – even if there are some.

Miroslav Loncar’s “Who Is Eve” brings a refreshing density of sound as contrasted with more conventional works. It is titled after an art lecture in New Orleans: “… goal was to look into the different depictions of Eve through various works of art from different places and different times.” He decided to write his own impressions: “What I wanted to do was to use a number of different styles of music to give the piece a thematic connection to the title.” The composer, a native of Croatia (b.1964), provides not only an appealing soundscape for guitars but, too, a classy tablet of opportunities for players to make any number of interpretive choices.

“Horo” by Atanas Ourkouzounov presents a demanding model pallet of vertical harmony and biting horizontal lineage with ornaments, quick figures, and catchy rhythmic pulse. It reminds of something we can’t quite remember. The players are quick, sure, and well aligned throughout this three-and-a-half-minute moto perpetuo; a sure sign of communication and simpatico.

Elsewhere the latin sounds of South America via Luis Bonfá and Jorge Morel are familiar. Again there is clear articulation, accurate rhythm, and often percussion. The duo setting of “Danza Brazileira” by the composer is just the right mix of original tune and enhancements. The Scarlatti is straightforward, no gadgetry, just on-time, and a period-correct baroque performance. And their Albeniz pieces strike the right Spanish duende in arrangements by Miguel Llobet.

All this to say, this duo has continuity of string, a critical element, a relaxed and easy elasticity when needed, and precision, and they have command of that whole division-of-labor thing. Where they rank in the crowd is a whole new issue, but they’re obviously contenders. Imagine the result if they didn’t live so far apart!

The recording is dedicated to the memory of Thomas Humphrey (1948-2008), the American guitar builder who revolutionized an entire generation of classical guitar players by providing a better tool. As if that weren’t enough, he was a pretty swell guy who is missed and fondly remembered, always. The instruments used on this recording were made by Tom, natch.