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The Brazilian Album

NY CD Review

Review by Wildy Haskell

James Strauss might not be a name that is highly familiar to classical music fans in the United States, but that’s all about to change. The first Brazilian born flautist to earn a Diplomme de Concertiste from the École Normale de Musique de Paris, Strauss has performed recitals, workshops and with orchestras around the world. Noted as an authentic Latin representative of the French School of Flute by no less than master Jean Pierre Rampal, Strauss plays with a depth and intimacy that will remind you of how beautiful the flute can truly be. While Strauss has concentrated on traditional classical works in his other releases, The Brazilian Album works expose some of the seminal flute works of some of the great classical composers of Brazil. Strauss enlisted the assistance of Israeli Virtuosi, and conductor Ada Pelleg, in recording The Brazilian Album. Strauss opens with Francisco Braga’s “Serenata For Flute And Strings”, a gorgeous, lilting piece that’s pastoral in its mien. Every note is precise perfectly placed, with a sense of vibrant energy just beneath the surface. It’s a marvelous introduction – a thing of beauty. “Choro” (Edino Krieger) has a somewhat darker tone, dancing in the playground that lay between traditional classical and “new” music. Strauss takes command, driving the piece with a flute style that vacillates between lyric and frenetic. “Pattapiana” is a world premiere recording from composer Dimitri Cervo that was dedicated to Strauss. Clocking in at 10:05, the piece plays more like a small symphony, featuring some amazing moments of beauty. Cervo’s strong theme recurs throughout, with Strauss raising the bar each time it rears its head. Júlio Medaglia’s “Suite Popular Brasileira” gets its world debut here as well. Presented in four movements, the piece is vibrant and full of a life of its own. “Choro” finds Strauss dancing in frenzy, while the more lyric style of “Seresta” carries with it a pensive feel. “Baiao” carries the sort of theme you’ll be whistling for days – invading your head and refusing to leave. It’s impossible not to feel uplifted upon hearing this movement. The final movement, “Frevo”, is perhaps the most complicated of all, allowing Strauss to show his technical chops while utterly awing listeners with his virtuosity. Some of the runs and acrobatics he performs here on the flute will leave you dumbfounded. “Quatro Coisas For Flute And Strings” is another world premier recording from composer César Guerra-Peixe. It opens with “Preludio”, a dark and foreboding mood piece that’s full of its own Delphian beauty. “Movimentação” has an unsettled feel, with the orchestra building tension beneath Strauss’ uneasy flute lead. “Interlúdio” is a quiet moment of reflection that allows Strauss to spread his musical wings in gorgeous, lonely melody line shadowed by a subtle chorus of strings. All of this resolves in the joyous dance of “Cabocolinho De Pena”, an undeniably happy exclamation as closer. Ricardo Tacuchian’s “Concertina For Flute And Strings” is also heard here for the first time, and was dedicated by the composer himself to Strauss. The opening movement, “Allegro” is dark and full of dissonant harmonies, blending the classical and new styles in an uneasy marriage that discomfits and resolves in unequal measures. Strauss manages all of this with an aplomb that is surprising, but it may not be easy on the ears of those not enamored with 20th Century classical music. “Largo” begins in quieter tones, and offers an interesting interchange between Strauss and the orchestra, but retains a dark, uneasy feel. “Andante – Allegro Vivace” picks a more vibrant pace, but plays like a cacophony rather than a symphony. Instruments intrude on one another; stepping on one another’s lines like people jostling in a ticket queue. All of this is accomplished with a technical precision that is impressive, but the end result is just not easy on the ear. The Brazilian Album closes with a bonus track, a recording of José Mauricio Nunes Garcia’s “Tota Pulchra Es Maria”. Recorded with the Capriccioso Chamber Orchestra (Finland) and Chamber Choir Cantinovum under the direction of Rita Varonen, the piece features Sirkka Lampimaki as a vocal soloist and Strauss as the principal flute soloist. Written in a classical motet style, the piece is an utter work of beauty that brings chills to the listener. Wow. It’s not often, in editorial content that a writer concludes with a single word. But “Wow” is the word. James Strauss plays with a composure and presence that is, at first blush, startling. It is perhaps most surprising that Strauss isn’t touring the world on a par with instrumentalists such as Yo-Yo Ma, Vanessa Mae or Itzhak Perlman. He’s already playing on that level. If there is one complaint about the recording of The Brazilian Album, it’s that the album, at present, is only available in MP3 format. The compressed sound is tinny at times, and doesn’t allow listeners to appreciate the full beauty of what Strauss and Israeli Virtuosi have made here. But all of that aside – Wow.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5) Review by: Wildy Haskell

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