Spectral Trio

Spectral Trio

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Although this disc by the Spectral Trio doesn't quite reach the one-hour mark, anyone looking to pass an hour's listening in a pleasant and enjoyable way will not be disappointed here, plus there's the benefit of hearing music and learning of composers (with the exception of William Grant Still) that the average listener might otherwise never encounter. Despite the fact that all of the works date from between 1941 and 1986 -- the height of twentieth century academic composing -- it is all essentially tonal, very melodic, and extremely approachable by anyone. Madeleine Dring, an Englishwoman; Still, an American; and Jean-Michel Damase, a Frenchman, may not immediately seem to be a likely trio of complementary composers, but the pieces the Spectral Trio chose actually work quite well together. Still's Incantation and Dance and Dring's Danza Gaya are just for oboe and piano, and Damase's Quatre Divertissements are just for flute and piano, but the remainder of the program is for all three instruments. The works are united by the song-like nature of their melodies, which come across as perfectly suited to the flute and oboe because they rely on breath as much as a singer would. Plus, flutist Richard Sherman and oboist Jan Eberle completely understand their instruments and capabilities, making the most of the music to bring out those singing qualities. Still's Miniatures are re-workings of folk songs, while Dring's works and Damase's Divertissements have folk-song characteristics. Damase's 1962 Trio is the most sophisticated-sounding, both melodically and harmonically. The openings of both its first and last movements use the same dissonant declamatory figures before falling into more harmonious sounds, but overall it still works with the rest of the program because there's a similar leanness in the textures and lines of all the music. The Spectral Trio displays excellent ensemble work, blending the separate parts in a well-balanced way that adds to the charm of the music, making it flow and sound soothing even when it's at its most aurally or technically challenging. It's unfortunate that the disc isn't longer and also that pianist Kimberly Schmidt died just before its release. It manages to reach beyond its limited appeal to just fans of the flute or the oboe or the composers and could easily serve as a great alternative to those clich├ęd chillout compilations.

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