Journeys, Chamber Music for Flute, Viola and Guitar by Robert Baksa. MSR Classics CD - MS1306.
The Heim Duo, Christine Bock, artists.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
In reviewing a recording of new concert music, the critic must take into account three diverse aspects of the product: the music itself as conceived and written by the composer, the talents of the performers and the quality of the recording. In this particular recording much time has been given to the sound quality of the CD. With the wind sounds of the flute and the percussive aspects of the guitar balance of the instruments is essential to allow the listener the opportunity to hear both lines and appreciate their individual qualities as well as the sonorities created by the combination. Listening to the CD, therefore, took time and some careful comparisons of different playback systems and how different machines emphasized different sounds.
There was a particular problem for me with the first composition, for flute and guitar, particularly in the third movement. On two different machines the sound of the flutist breathing became overwhelming. On a third playback system, however, the breathing was noticeable but did not become prominent. Naturally this piece sounded better on the third trial. In this Sonata, composed in 2004, the flute part is both lyrical and tricky to play allowing the instrumentalist very little space and time in which to breathe. Annette Heim handles all of the fingering brilliantly and she certainly imbues the "lively" melody with both clarity and amusement, but her breathing is strong and becomes almost a third instrument on the first two systems. This distracts terribly from the music itself. I was pleased to hear less of her intakes of breath on the third playback. This was the worst track on the disc (out of fourteen) for this sort of thing. I was certain that the fault lay with the engineer placing her microphone too close to her rather than to the far end of the flute, but with such different playback results I am not entirely convinced that this was the case. The same problem persisted in the first two tracks, but not to such an extreme.
There are five compositions by the very talented Robert Baksa on this disc. Sonata da Giardino, is a solo sonata for guitar. Bret Heim captures every nuance of the melodic bits and pieces that comprise this 1998 work. While the title suggests an Italian theme for the work, there is little about it that smacks of Italy. Instead he brings us a cascade of melodic ideas that check one another in a rapid way, keeping the player constantly altering his fingering and his attacks. It is a vigorous piece and Heim does well with it.
A 1994 Sonata for solo guitar precedes the Sonata da Giardino. This is a much more intensely rigorous exercise, but still allows some lovely melodies to grasp the mind. In both cases virtuosic playing is required and Bret Heim is up to the challenge.
The Duo, Bret and Annette, bring a beautiful marriage of music to light in the final work on the CD, a 1995 composition entitled "Celestials." Each of the five movements has a thematic base: "Moon Drifts," "Sun Tones," "Rain Shapes," Star Drops," and "Wind Hues." According to the liner notes by Bret Heim this was the first work of Baksaís they played. Their familiarity with the work lends a cozy sound to their playing and the lyrical qualities of the composerís work get full play here. What I enjoy most about Robert Baksa's music is the often heavenward cast of his romantic style. In this particular work he allows himself the freedom to let his instruments soar. It is almost as though the flute has become entangled in the strings of the guitar as the two instruments float and trade tones, exchange snatches of melody and romantically thread the needles of imagination, each one using the otherís "eye" to infuse their stringed tones. This is a beautiful work, a treasure to have and to listen to over again.
The title work, "Journeys," is the most recent composition, dating from 2005. In two movements the Duo, with violist Christine Bock, take the listener on an inner journey, a trip of contemplation rather than a recognizable movement from place to place, concept to concept. Often the viola and flute double and the combined tones of these two instruments literally creates something new, a "strind instrument." With the guitar playing leading tones and harmonic counter-themes, the journey is so inner directed that the listener almost hears the piece with the heart rather than the ears.
In coming to grips with the difficult passages and the breathing emphasis of the first work and the delightful interpretations of the balance of the CD it seems to me that the treasures of this collection far out-weigh the technical problems. The disc may be found for purchase in stores and on line from the CD presenter www.msrcd.com or even from the composer at www.robertbaksa.com.
If you love the romantic melody and the sound of wind and guitar, this is a must-have new recording. If you find the technical aspects of music alluring, then the unrelenting and difficult passages of the Sonata for Flute and Guitar will give you more than enough reason to cheer the resilience of the talented players.
All in all, here is a cherishable collection of modern musical delights, and it's lyrical and it's challenging and it is worth any number of hearings. Each one brings you something new.