Monday, July 31, 2017

Sono Luminus Releases Debut Album of Boyd Meets Girl

Boyd Meets Girl is the duo of Australian classical guitarist Rupert Boyd with his wife, American cellist Laura Metcalf. This past Friday Sono Luminus released the duo’s debut album, which is entitled, simply enough, Boyd Meets Girl. The release took place approximately halfway through the duo’s current tour of the United States. The tour began in Massachusetts on July 5, and the album was released a few days after their appearance at the Newport Music Festival. Their tour will continue through August 11, when it concludes in Santa Fe. They will then fly across the Pacific for a series of performances in both New Zealand and Australia between August 23 and September 22.

As might be guessed, the repertoire for cello and guitar is a bit slim. Nevertheless, the album begins with a relatively short three-movement composition by Jaime Mirtenbaum Zenamon, the sixth in a series of pieces he has called “Reflexões” (reflections). Zenamon himself is a guitarist, but this piece makes it clear that he understands enough about both the sonorities of the cello and the technical capabilities of a cellist to make for a well-conceived, albeit a bit bland, duet.

“Arafura Arioso” began as the second movement of a concerto for guitar and strings by Australian composer Ross Edwards. He then arranged the second movement especially for Boyd Meets Girl. The result has been given its premiere recording on this album. The music amounts to a geographical meditation, whose impact has not been short-changed by by Edwards’ arrangement. Similarly, the track “Allegretto Comodo” is a movement extracted from a longer composition. In this case, however, that composition is a sonata explicitly written for cello and guitar by Brazilian composer Radamés Gnattali.

The remainder of the album consists of arrangements prepared jointly by Boyd and Metcalf. The most straightforward of these are four of the two-part contrapuntal pieces that Johann Sebastian Bach called “inventions,” BWV 779 in F major, BWV 781 in G major, BWV 777 in E major, and BWV 784 in A minor. In this case arrangement seemed to involve little more than giving the lower line to the cello and the upper to the guitar.

Similarly, the cello fits will into the vocal line in Manuel de Falla’s arrangements of seven traditional Spanish songs, originally written for soprano and piano. Since much of the piano part was conceived to imitate a guitar, transcription was a relatively straightforward process. On the other hand the “Café 1930” movement from Astor Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango suite was originally scored for flute and guitar, meaning that Metcalf had to take on the flute part.

Far more ambitious was the decision to take on Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” (mirror in the mirror). This was written for piano and violin, but this is not the first occasion on which the violin has been replaced by a cello. Indeed, the registration of the violin part is such that the cello can play the pitches written for violin without too much difficulty.

The challenge in performing this piece, however, has to do with how the accompaniment relies heavily on the resonant characteristics of the piano. Boyd’s decision to use harmonics for at least some of the pitches that Pärt required amounts to an innovative approach to an alternative sonority. However, for those of us who have taken the reverberations in the body of the piano to embody Pärt’s sense of a mirror, this arrangement comes up more than a little short.

The most innovative arrangement is that of Gabriel Fauré’s orchestral scoring of his “Pavane.” This allows for some interesting approaches to the sharing of the thematic material, which Boyd and Metcalf definitely handle imaginatively. If this is the most satisfying of the arrangements, the least is their approach to “Human Nature,” the track from Michael Jackson’s Thriller album written by Steve Porcaro and John Bettis. This is a matter of accounting for the flesh with little sense of the spirit. Boyd and Metcalf would have done well to consider the sorts of technical devices that Steve Riffkin summoned, when he arranged “Purple Haze” for the Kronos Quartet, before deciding to take on anything from Thriller.

Nevertheless, even if “Human Nature” amounts to the “encore selection” on this album, it suggests some of the symptoms of the production as a whole. Those are symptoms that indicate approaches to repertoire and execution that are affable without being particularly compelling. This is not to accuse the album of descending into the “easy listening” domain; but more attentive listeners are likely to come away feeling that none of that tracks on this album are particularly engaging.

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