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Sonata No 10;
Duo? O, Du ...;
Lux aeterna;
Patrick & Thomas Demenga (cellos)
ECM New Series 465 341-2 [65 min]
 Amazon UK  

Unique, and ever likely to remain so, this cello-duo recital by two gifted Swiss brothers contrasts wild flights of fancy by the 18C French cellist/composer Jean Barriere (1705-47) with modern works which challenge the open minded listener with contrasting idioms.

Thomas Demenga has previously coupled Bach suites with modern compositions. As composer, he contributes a piece written to play with his younger brother which starts with compound rhythms that become disrupted with catastrophic interruptions before trying to re-establish themselves. Roland Moser launches into complex pizzicato patterns in his Wendunken (which might be translated as turn around) and finally reaches a melodic 'song' which resolves the earlier conflicts. Barry Guy (double bass virtuoso, so no stranger to the capabilities of lower strings) exploits advanced playing techniques and goes through a multitude of changes of character and evanescent moods, recalling Guy's own free-jazz improvisations. Episodes of stasis give way to frenetic activity and mysterious wisps of tone, before he returns to the rhythmic figures with which he began, accompanying now a grave ascending melody which ascends into the highest register before evaporating with a question mark.

For me, the tough nut here was the CD's title piece, Alexander Knaifel's long meditation 'for two psalm singers' upon fragments from the Psalms, with the cellists required to intone vocally, besides maintaining concentration over long spans; the effect is hypnotic - or a turn off, depending on your personality and patience.

The rest is a splendid mixture of modern experiments for this unusual sibling duo. Rapport is close as one might hope. It is all played with total assurance and conviction and would broaden the minds of any cellists, prompting them to reconsider their well-worn repertoires, which tend to recycle familiar pieces from the instrument's canon of guaranteed masterworks. One or two of these pieces would wake up complacent listeners, but the CD provokes too many thoughts to digest straight off. Barriere is a composer worth anyone's time and should take a regular place in cello recitals for those players who can cope with his demands, both expressive and technical, but I think I would recommend saving it as a pleasure to be deserved after listening to the other items on this testing programme, testing for listeners as for performers.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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