Duo LiveOak (Nancy Knowles, (mezzo)soprano/poet, & Frank Wallace, baritone/guitar/lute). Gyre 10082 ( http://www.gyremusic.com/ ). (59:51).
In over 25 years of writing about music on recordings and in concerts, I have rarely been as captivated and enchanted by any item, and particularly an item sent on spec, as this new CD from Duo LiveOak, a new - to me - ensemble established in 1976. The group was recommended to us by none other than Richard Motylinksi, the NCS' stellar percussionist, whose alter ego dwells in the era of early music - really early music. Don't be misled by the name, which may conjure up images of traditional music, for better or worse. This is a first-rate chamber music duo with a new and refreshing twist. Its artists are steeped in early music, and Wallace's songs and duets, deftly accompanied, evoke memories of our distant cultural past, ever so gently wrapped in occasional quasi-contemporary enhancements. Cynics might brand the Dowland-inspired results "cross-over"; would that all such products were as worthy as this one! The CD's only major drawback is its brevity, for it ends sooner than any reasonable person who hears it would wish. The texts are by Knowles, better-known authors including Rumi and Rothehe, and names that may not be as familiar - Shem Tov Ben Palquera, Eugène Guillevic, and Robert Creeley. Wallace accompanies himself (in two instances) and Knowles, wrapping the texts in music of exceptional beauty, using lute or guitar with the skill of a master. Two short pieces round out the CD, the chief attractions of which are three substantial groups of songs - "A Single Veil," a six-part guitar-accompanied set, "Bestiary," also consisting of six numbers and involving both vocalists with guitar, and the nine-number title work, "Women of the Water," for mezzo-soprano and lute. The CD opens with a moving duet with lute accompaniment, "Pearly Everlasting," written in memory of the Duo's former partner and co-founder, John Fleagle. The two solo guitar pieces are "Dake's Song," for guitar builder Dake Traphagen, and "Débil del Alba," the title of which comes from poet Pablo Neruda. All these works were composed between 2001 and 2003. HIP (that's "historically informed performance") readers will want to know that the instruments used are guitars by Ignacio Fleta (1964) and Traphagen (1997) and a lute by Joel van Lennep (1980). The recording venue was the Hillsborough (NH) Congregational Church. The CD comes with extensive notes and song texts (tucked into an inside pocket and easy to overlook), and the whole thing is in an environmentally friendly package (not a jewel box). Go for it!
Note: LiveOak performs tonight (3/21) in Raleigh. See our calendar for details.