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Incantations & Inspirations, Duo d'amore: Geoffrey Burgess, Baroque oboe and oboe d'amore, and Elaine Funaro, harpsichord. 61:26, ©2006. $15.00, available from http://www.CDBaby.com/. See also http://www.elainefunaro.com/.
One of the consequences — and it is often a pleasant one — of the early instrument and historically-informed performance movements is the creation of music by contemporary composers for instruments of an earlier time, offering the listener something of a time-warp. This CD presents a healthy helping of such fare, by seven composers from North America and Australia, created between 1990 and 2005. Happily, none of the works are imitation Baroque or mere curiosities, while all exploit the sound of the period instruments. Some of the works were commissioned by the performers while others are transcribed or adapted for these instruments by or with the permission of the composer.
The two openers — "Canto," by Sydney composer Stephen Yates, and "d'amore," by Aussie Andrew Ford — fall into the former category, as does "Vivaldiana," by John Mayrose, a doctoral candidate at Duke University in Durham, heard midway through the program. This last uses material from Vivaldi's Sonata for Oboe and Basso Continuo in C in a very modern yet entirely melodic way that is far more than a compositional exercise.
There are works for each instrument alone, several of which are split and scattered throughout the program rather than being played together: Nos. III and VII of the aforementioned Yates' "Solfeggietti," for solo harpsichord, actually the most Baroque-sounding of all the works; two pieces — "Yanada" and "Ulpirra" — for solo oboe by Sydney composer Ross Edwards; and Illinois-based Tom Robin Harris' Two Movements for solo harpsichord.
The longest piece — at 16.5 minutes, it is 2.5 times the length of the next in line, the 6.5-minute opener — is the closer, Australian Kaspar Brookes' "Five Bells: A Dramatic Recital for Oboist and Harpsichord," on the poem by Kenneth Slessor. This work also differs the most from the others: it verbalizes a story which the music accompanies in a Schoenbergian Pierrot Lunaire fashion, harking back to yet a different time.
The title of the CD is apt, both as a characterization of a good deal of the music and as an indication of the source of inspiration for some of the composers: the titles of the two movements of Edwards' piece are Aboriginal words, for "moon" and "pipe" or "flute" respectively. "Incantations" is also the title of one of the individual works, a three-movement one by Chapel Hill composer Edwin McLean, which he says was inspired by the sound of the Native American flute. Yate's "Canto" is more chant than song-like.
If you get the idea that this music is melodic, often a bit hauntingly so, and pleasing to the ear, you are on the right track. Although there is an inevitable sense of family relationship among the works, there is also adequate variety to hold interest. Several of the pieces, notably Ford's "d'amore," and the second movement of McLean's "Incantations," have a syncopated, jazzy feel. Each subsequent listening also catches the attention with something not noticed in the earlier hearings.
Although some of the works are from "Down Under," this is not "exotic" music, even if it differs from our own (which is to say, American) contemporary fare. It is interesting and rewarding to make the acquaintance of their names and work.
The performers enjoy international reputations, and the performance on the CD is of the caliber one would expect from them. The attractive booklet includes succinct, well-written notes about the composers and each of the works, the latter often by the composers themselves, and bios of the musicians. A lovely photo of the duo in front of the double keyboard of the harpsichord adorns the back cover. Highly recommended.