Transcend Lux Nova Duo Genuin GEN23842

Leo Brouwer (b. 1939)
Variaciones concertantes después de Beethoven (2020)
Sascha Lino Lemke (b. 1976)
Atemschaukel (2021)
Eddie Mora (b. 1965)
Lux Nova (2021)
Hector Docx (b. 1993)
Three Transfigurations (2022)
Leo Brouwer
Bomarzos Tales (2020)
Lux Nova Duo
Marcia Lemke-Kern (soprano: Lemke)
Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn/Eddie Mora
rec. 2022, Wilhelm-Frey-Kulturhalle, Widdern, Germany
Genuin GEN23842 [58]

The accordion and the guitar are both instruments with one foot in and one foot out of the classical tradition. The guitar’s classical repertoire began many centuries before the accordion, but the accordion is fast catching up, establishing itself in concert halls, conservatoires, and recordings. Although the accordion and guitar are quite different kinds of instruments – one intimate and with little sustain, the other almost a miniature organ – their contrasts make them work well together. Moreover, both have great colouristic possibility, which is explored to full effect in this album.

Unlike most previous accordion and guitar recordings, this is not an album of duets: in fact, all five of the works feature the two solo instruments alongside the Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn, conducted by Eddie Mora. It is all new music – the earliest was written in 2020 – and each of the five works is a world premiere recording. Mora himself composed one of the works, Lux Mora (after the name of the duo), which unsurprisingly has some of the best orchestral writing on the album. It is the piece that comes closest to feeling like a concerto, with great tension between the chamber orchestra and the accordion and guitar – sometimes bordering on violence, though never excessively so. However, for long stretches it is also indulgently beautiful – the melodic lines are especially well done, moving fluidly in an open musical space. Then in its final minutes the music settles on an exquisitely simple texture, with the guitar quietly playing a single arpeggio, while the orchestra gives a gentle harmonic background and the accordion plays a slow melody. Finally, the strings gently imitate the guitar and the music ends. It is beautiful in its economy.

I was less taken with the two works by Leo Brouwer, which open and close the album. Brouwer was once the most radical and interesting guitarist-composer, whose avant-garde works from the 1960s and 70s were born of an extraordinarily lively imagination that meant they outlived their novelty. Then he returned to tonality in the 1980s, as many composers did, and the music was no less interesting because of it. However, the two works on this album are the most traditional I’ve yet heard him, and I found them a bit of a disappointment. Variaciones concertantes después de Beethoven opens the album, and while there are certainly many things to like, it never quite takes off as it seems to want to. It is playful and pleasant, but I was wondering what happened to the Brouwer whose music often had Beethovenian vigour and surprise which worked so well. Bomarzos Tales is much the same. Its promising dissonances, instead of leading us to somewhere interesting, just returned to a familiar neo-Romanticism. There are some lovely melodies in the music, but I find the style cloying after a time (though I suspect other listeners will disagree with me).

More interesting were the other two works on the album, Atemschaukel by Sascha Lino Lemke and Three Transfigurations by Hector Docx. These are the most novel of the five works. The first creates an innovative sound world by way of guitar string-noise, percussive sounds, glissandi strings, accordion breathing sounds, and so on – plus a soprano aahing over it all (as well as some occasional whispering and throat singing). The music is supposed to represent breathing and the body, and the effect is admirable. In the booklet, we are told that Three Transfigurations combines ‘contemporary avant-garde languages with the street music of today’s Latin American society’. Its three movements, each using the prefix ‘trans-’, build in a somewhat cumulative way. The first, Transfixed, begins with percussive noises and minimal harmony; there is a sense of something yet to be revealed. Then the music gets busier and the rhythms clearer, while melody finds its way through confused textures. Transcend is otherworldly, with long chorale-like pianissimo harmonies that sound as if they are coming from somewhere high above us, and then distorted by the wind. Finally, dance breaks out in Transform. With a strong heavy pulse, harmonic stasis, and wild improvisatory passages on top, this lives up to the promise of being inspired by street music – in fact, run it through a synthesiser and it wouldn’t be out of place in a nightclub. Not necessarily my favourite type of music, I confess, but it is undeniably an exciting ending to an imaginative set of pieces.

The recording quality is excellent and spacious, and all the instruments are well-balanced. The performances from all involved are superb, and the five works are a diverse collection that ought to be heard by both new music enthusiasts and those with a particular interest in the accordion or guitar.

Steven Watson

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Lydia Schmidt (accordion)
Jorge Paz Verastegui (guitar)