Long time music lovers and toe-in-the-water neophytes alike would be well advised to order up this Prelude Cocktail, featuring the considerable talents of Zara Lawler (flute, piccolo, alto flute) and Paul Fadoul (marimba, vibraphone).
Over the marvellously varied course of 38 tracks, the ear is treated to a vast spectrum of colours, primarily exploring the mixture of wood, metal along with the artistic “fire in the belly” from the composers and performers.
The timelessness and universality of Johann Sebastian Bach is immediately apparent in the three preludes that begin the recital. The F minor prelude is notable for the magically mellow bass line and ideally matched attacks from flute and mallets; the following fugue is much more difficult to balance but, nonetheless maintains a natural flow.
BWV 860 with its haunting beginning goes on to show Lawler + Fadoul’s exquisite ensemble skills—two players, but one cohesive result. The last of this set (prelude) is tossed off with deceptive ease and joy; a wee bit of unison blends so well that it becomes a single colour. The fugue’s long adieu is the culmination of Lawler’s excellent sense of lead and line.
The three offerings from Chopin are problematic. The phrasing—to these ears—is too affected verging on the saccharine. And the piano’s edge—notably in No.12—is, necessarily, MIA. The original music is so wedded to the piano, it just doesn’t seem to fit in other clothes (nor have any other transcriptions I’ve encountered over the years).
The works from Scriabin fire on all cylinders. How wonderful to have the ring of the vibes alongside the vibrato of the flute. Switching hues back to the mellower marimba is especially effective in Op. 15; here the melodic pushes and pulls work to everyone’s advantage.
Debussy’s inherent dreaminess—virtually all of his piano music begs for orchestration—is ideally suited to the magic of mallet touches and timbres coupled with expertly controlled columns of air. What fun to have the flaxen hair done up with tremolo as the famous melody is rendered with near-perfect speech.
This group finishes up with a full-blooded reading of Bruyères that artfully mines the moments of rapture and a serene conclusion that lingers in memory.
From the first measure of Gershwin’s Three Preludes, there’s a heady feeling of sheer, clear enjoyment and fun. The alto flute appears with a delectable air of misterioso in the second frame where only a touch more support in the top of the adieu could improve the result. The closing “Spanish Prelude” is engaging at every twist and turn.
The eight preludes and first of three preludes and fugues from Dimitri Shostakovitch push the colour envelope even farther. No better way to start than with an eerie Danse Macabre pitting piccolo with mallets. The piccolo reappears in No. 16, which has intriguing hints of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony added to the mix just as a touch of Poulenc burbles up to the surface in No. 18. The fugue from Op. 87, No. 7 sees its subject deftly stated by Lawler before Fadoul brings in the other voices in seamless fashion that never loses direction. The delivery of the subtle harmonic shift shows once again how well these performers understand the composer’s subtext.
The reaming Shostakovitch contributions are further enhanced by the addition of clarinetist Christopher Grymes. While his ever-flexible tone is a touch reedy for my taste, the drama heats up immediately when he joins the fray in Prelude and Fugue No. 3 in G Major. His interaction with Lawler (once more on piccolo) is superb. No. 15 has echoes of the composer’s Hamlet Suite. Anchored by Fadoul, the clarinet and flute put on a master class of matched articulation and give the prelude’s middle section a welcome contrast of delicate lines. The closing fugue has a compelling feel of “franaticism” almost slipping the leash of razor-tight ensemble before scurrying home to the double bar.
Somewhat akin to Dave Camwell’s survey of music for saxophone (also starting with Bach—cross-reference below) the last two compositions—written originally for Lawler and Fadoul—provide the most consistently satisfying music making of the disc.
Katherine Hoover’s Two Preludes appear to arrive as a natural consequence of all that came before, infused with counterpoint, jazz, quasi improv and rhythmic drive. “Uptown” has the coolest ending of the collection. “Out of Town” is masterfully constructed, allowing Lawler to utilize her extraordinary sense of flow before giving Fadoul his only extended solo turn. The pair team up as one at journey’s end, having gone far out of town then coming home together.
“STOP. DROP. ROLL.” Readily lives up to its suggested program. Composer Roshanne Etezady’s sense of fun and surprise finds willing partners as the first prelude uses silence to great effect leading to a flute pedal that is answered by purposely stilted steps then leave the listener guessing just when the last “bop” will be heard.
The middle movement sees Fadoul drop everything to deliver a busy accompaniment over which Lawler crafts long, fluid textures morphing into jazzy cascades and a wee bit of a cadenza before a brief return and, finally, a gradual winding down—topped off with bits of dry punctuation.
A hairpin tremolo aptly begins “ROLL.” as the players go with their instincts, heating up the tension, searching higher and higher only to succumb to a brief flutter and roll out and vanish. JWR