Michael Baker, Vasilis Bessas, James Jervis, and Rory Russell met at the Royal Northern College of Music in the United Kingdom in 1999 and formed the Aquarelle Quartet. Since then they have performed throughout Europe and in Asia.
Aspects contains some of the music from around the globe they have been playing and premieres two new pieces, Carl Mikael Marin and Punch Brothers’ Flippen/Soon or Never and John Bruning’s Elegy. With its fast rhythms, American composer Andrew York’s Quiccan demonstrates Aquarelle’s clarity of articulation. The Quartet’s ability to play fast music clearly is also evident in their arrangement of the overture (Sinfonia) to Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri.
I was particularly fascinated by their ability to crescendo with as many fine gradations as an orchestra.
Anglo-Welsh composer Dalwyn Henshall’s liquid sounding Welsh Dance No. 2, written for harp, seems to reflect the sun on the banks of a river when played by the guitar quartet. Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera wrote three Argentine Dances in 1937. The Danza del viejo boyero (Dance of the Old Herdsman) was originally written so that the pianist’s right hand would only play white notes and the left hand only black notes. Aquarelle plays an arrangement by Brazilian guitarist João Luiz Rezende that combines the bitonal herdsman’s dance with the melodies of the Danza de la moza donosa (Dance of the Beautiful Maiden) and the dissonant drama of the Danza del gaucho matrero (Dance of the Arrogant Cowboy). Carlos Rafael Rivera, an American folkloric music essayist who has explored the Afro-Cuban genre, says he derived the title Cumba-Quin from the sounds conga drums make when playing against the claves in Cuban Rumba style. With its catchy rhythms and easy melody, it is one of the most accessible pieces on this disc.
According to the CD booklet, California-based composer David Pritchard’s Stairs is meant to take the listener on an emotional musical journey, one step at a time. Some steps go up and some go down, perhaps to a cool Pacific Ocean shore where the incoming tide invades the beach’s white sands. Australian composer Philip Houghton writes of three type of opals. “Black Opal” is strong, solid, and rhythmic. “Water Opal” is transparent and lets the viewer see bright blues and greens through the stone. Houghton’s piece has clear and firm textures but they are occasionally broken up by rhythmic interjections. “White Opal” has its own sudden flashes of color and they appear whenever a beam of light hits the stone. Much of the land “down under” is still in its natural state and, like the unfettered opals; its natural beauty can suddenly burst forth. Chris Thile’s Bluegrass band, Punch Brothers, originally played Flippen, a piece actually written by Swedish violinist Mikael Marin for his band, Väsen. [Mike Baker] arranged it for guitar quartet using the Punch Brothers song Soon or Never as a middle, slow movement surrounded with the fast tempos and rollicking sounds of Flippen.
Following that song is John Brunning’s Elegy, a mood-changing, modestly complex finale. Its delightful music charms the ear with memories evoking happy times.
Chandos’s sound is impeccable and each of the four guitars has a specific space in front of the listener. Connoisseurs of modern guitar music will want to own Aquarelle’s Aspects.