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Philmore Ensemble. Duos and Trios from Five Centuries. [ Philmore Ensemble] (2011), CD.

This is the debut recording by Philmore Ensemble, a group formed at Temple university in 2004 initially by .A.manda Heckman (flute), Duane Large (guitars), and Julia Madden (soprano), later joined by Myanna Harvey (violin. viola). The groups mission, as Large writes in the booklet. is to offer "a fresh and engaging look at the works of popular and lesser-known composers," and to bring to life "music that has fallen into obscurity" and "shed a different light on will-known music." The group plays works ranging from the Renaissance era through the twenty-first century, with a special locus on the nineteenth century, and all of these periods are represented in the selections on this disc. Their instrumentation dictates a variety of repertoire, with some works played as written, some necessitating the combinations of two or more members, and sonic necessitating the addition of guest artists--special guest pianist Tim Ribchester joins the ensemble for two of the fourteen selections here, both of which are songs. The disc lacks a work in which all four primary members perform together, as die title states plainly. The Adagio non molto-Allegro Moderato movement from Wenzeslaus Matiegka's Serenade, op. 26, for guitar, flute, and viola, is one Of two pieces on the disc in which the group's instrumentalists combine forces. Matiegka (1773--18301. a Bohemian guitarist and composer active in vienna, is most likely one of the lesser-known composers the ensemble intends to highlight. All of his published works are either for guitar solo or chamber ensembles including guitar. so it seems probable this ensemble will include other Matiegka works in its repertoire. If they were going to dedicate themselves solely to classical music, Matiegka might be a good choice for the ensemble's name, but the stated scope of this group is not bound to one side or era--their name is a portmanteau of Philadelphia and Baltimore, the cities where the members live. This is not a group overly concerned with the strictures of historical performance practice. although Large writes in his notes that with the eighteenth and particularly nineteenth-century music on this disc the ensemble "implements the use of the Italian style" by "employing tempo rubato and extemporizing on the music itself." This approach is audible on the Matiegka recording, on which Large plays a period insoninent Francois Rondhloff. ca. 1815, creating a bright sound that offsets the flute and viola nicely in the mix. I wish they had included the remaining two movements. but I realize they were by the time constraints of the compact disc format--especially when attempting to include music from live centuries. The ensemble's blend sounds better on this work than it does on many other tracks on this disc, which prompts my primary complaint about this disc: the levels seem a bit too hot throughout. diminishing the dynamic range of the playing. I doubt the musicians were playing in a range constantly between mezzo forte and forte. Perhaps it is the result of close-microphone placement during recording. or engineering choices made in die mixing and mastering stages, but the instruments sound loud even when playback volume is decreased. Another issue compromising the listening experience is the sense that. different instruments often sound as if they were recorded in disparate locations instead of being in the same room. For example, in the performance of Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg's "Monolog der Maria Stuart," arranged for guitar, flute, and soprano by Albert Methfessel, it sounds as if soprano Julia Madden is singing in a much more cavernous space than the one in which her instrumental collaborators are playing. There is an audible reverberation at the end of many of her phrases, whereas Amanda Heckman's flute and Duane Large's guitar sound as if they are in a much smaller room. The contrast is slightly jarring. The credits indicate all recording was done at the same studio, but to my ears it sounds as if Madden might have been recorded in a stairwell, a common practice in multitrack recording of popular music. I believe chamber music should sound as if all the musicians are in the same chamber. Leo Brouwer's "Mujer bailando un Minuetto," from his larger work Paisajes, Relmtos y Mujeres (1997), is a delightful piece, full of playfulness and lively interaction between the guitar, flute, and viola. Still, it sounds as if the engineer thought the ensemble was a rock band aiming for commercial FM radio airplay (if such beasts still exist in this era). All three instruments are positioned front and center in the stereo field, and the dynamic range is narrow. The piece seems enjoyable, and the musicianship is high, but the mix limits the listening pleasure. The duos on the disc fare better than the trios in terms of balance. When Large accompanies Madden, as he does on Benjamin Britten's folk song "I will give my love an apple," Anton Diabelli's arrangement of Beethoven's "Andenken," and his own arrangement of Mozart's concert aria "All! Spiegarti, Oh dio," there is a pleasant tension between the intimacy of the guitar and the grandiosity of the voice. The blend between piano and voice is also pleasing on Benjamin Britten's realization of Henry Purcell's "An Evening Hymn," and on Andrea Clear-field's "Cliff," a movement from her cantata The Rim of Love (2006). Tim Ribchester unfortunately had to play an instrument, in need of tuning on "An Evening Hymn." Madden's voice is high enough in the mix to mask this reality through most of the performance, thankfully. On "Cliff," both piano and voice manage to get soft as well as quiet, although forte dominates the dynamics of the work. The intonation issues of the piano are not audible on this performance, so perhaps the studio had it tuned prior to that particular recording session. Large writes that the repertoire for this disc was selected both to show the group's scope and to reveal "the thread that runs through the music of all these centuries." One of the works they selected, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Sonatina op. 205 (1969), for guitar and flute, sounds as if it arrived in the late twentieth century via time machine. Each of its three movements is canonic, evoking the baroque, but the music is decidedly neoromantic, and Heckman joins Large in applying the Italian style to this late work from the Italian-born American composer. Allen Krantz, instructor at Temple University, represents the twenty-first century with his Nocturne op. 23, for guitar and viola, a work premiered by Krantz and violist Nancy Bean at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Halpin May 2001. Large and Harvey relish their opportunities to vacillate between flowing melodic lines and dissonant phrases, applying rubato to the lyrical passages and unleashing bursts of energy in rhythmic textures. It is the standout piece on the disc. The musicianship on display throughout this disc is strong, and indicates a promising future for the individuals as well as the ensemble. My wish for them is to try a different audio engineer to work with or a different recording environment for future releases. I look forward to hearing more from this ensemble. Information on how to obtain the disc may be found at (accessed 22 February 2012).


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Author:Caw, Tom
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:May 22, 2012
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