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The Encore Album

NY CD Review

Brazil has long been known in the music world for the Samba and Bossa-Nova music that grown out of the South American country and spread out across the in recent decades. But, while Samba may be Brazil’s biggest musical export, there is a very strong group of classical musicians that have taken to the national and international stage with their interpretations and arrangements of western classical repertoire. Two of these artists are flautist James Strauss and pianist Semiramis Rima, both based out of Rio de Janeiro. These two world-class performers have recently come together on The Encore Album, a collection of classical works performed by the duo, with the help of violinist Emmanuele Baldini, all of which were arranged by Strauss for the recording. The works featured on the album are a mix of popular classical pieces as well as lesser-know works from their repertoire. The two pieces that most listeners will recognize, whether fans of the classical music genre or not, are the enduring ballad “Ave Marie,” and the feat of technical wizardry “Flight of the Bumblebee.” During the ballad, the flute-piano duo take their time developing the atmosphere of the piece. The tempo is slow to begin with, but the artists wring every last ounce of emotion out of each note and phrase. The melody is interpreted in a personal way, while not straying too far from the composers original intent, and the interaction between the two artists is remarkable, truly a joy to listen to. On the more fiery “Flight of the Bumblebee,” the musicians use the occasion to showcase their polished technical skills, while never letting the tempo get too fast to enjoy. Often times artists will go over the top with this piece as far as the tempo is concerned, challenging their technique, but making it unenjoyable for the audience at the same time. This is not the case on this record. Here, the artists blend musicality with musicianship to create a fun and engaging rendition of one of the most famous pieces in the classical repertoire. While some of the other works on the album will be lesser-known to listeners, they are definitely worth checking out for the uninitiated. Of note are the two works by composer Fritz Kreisler, “Liebslied” and “Schon Rosmarin.” The first work is a slow, but light-hearted affair, featuring a memorable melody line that Strauss expertly interprets. The mix of the instruments on this track is indicative of the rest of the record. Both instruments retain their acoustic qualities, while being mixed in a way that allows both to reach forward when needed, and sneak into the background when appropriate. The mixing and audio quality of this record is absolutely first-rate, one of the reasons this makes for a top-notch listening experience. The second work is more lively, but even at the faster tempo the duo maintains their intuitive interaction throughout. At a little under two minutes in length, this work is one of the shortest on the album, but it’s short duration is filled with energetic melodic phrases, strong accompaniment and the highest level of musicianship, making it stand out as a highlight on a highlight filled album. Overall, The Encore Album is a strong release, one that is both enlightening and entertaining, both qualities of a well-performed and produced collection of classical repertoire. Though Brazil is still known more for its Samba and Bossa musicians, artists such as this duo are going a long way to cement the country as a training ground for some of the brightest classical musicians on the scene today.

Matthew Warnock

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