SD Mandolin Virtuoso Chris Acquavella's New CD, by Robert Bush

Warning: You could put what I know about classical music, especially pre-20th Century classical music in a very small box, and have enough room left over to fit what I know about gangsta-rap, or Balinese Gamelan music--although I'm quite fond of Gamelan music.

So, I'm not sure what inspired San Diego mandolinist Chris Acquavella to send me his brand new release on Water Village Records, titled Praeludium, recently.

Like I said, I don't know much about classical music, that is still largely on my "to-do-list," however, I do know a virtuoso when I hear one, and Mr. Acquavella is a virtuoso of the highest order.

Praeludium, (which is Latin for prelude), is a solo mandolin album containing works from the Baroque to the contemporary period, not all of them actually composed for his instrument, which, as one might deduce, does not have a wealth of available repertoire.

The most famous mandolin cat I know of, bluegrass/jazz hybridist David Grisman was impressed enough by Acquavella's talent to write : "Chris delivers powerfully emotive solo performances that pay homage to their historical origins through his own uniquely personal mandolin voice."

A word about the recording, made at Studio West : gorgeous. I have never heard the instrument captured with such glorious fidelity. Then again, the stuff Acquavella is playing totally shatters my expectations of what a mandolin was capable of.

There are several distinct highlights in this disc beginning with the opening "Fantasia No. 1" by Japanese mandolinist Takashi Ochi, which is described as being heavily influenced by the Italian Romantic School. I can neither confirm or deny that pedigree, but I can say that it is filled with intricate maneuvers and precise ornamentation.

"Captain O' Kane" was composed in the 1600s by Turlough O' Carolan for the Celtic harp. Acquavella performs it here on the Baroque mandolino with sumptuous results. There is a definite Celtic feel overall, and I think I heard some of the harmonic strains of "Greensleeves" in there as well.

The album's showcase has got be J.S. Bach's "Partita No. II in D Minor," originally composed for solo violin. Full of the complex vertical harmony Bach was known for, Acquavella concentrates three movements into a suite. "Sarabanda", sounds timeless, and some of the impossibly voiced chords in "Giga" sound as if they were struck in one of God's reverberant indoor gardens.

The longest single track, "Differencias," clocks in at 5:28, and represents both a technical and musical achievement. Based on an old Sephardic melody--"Differencias" boggles the mind with its virtuosity, but the sultry dance at the center of it stokes other senses as well.

If you are in the mood for something completely different, you can hardly go wrong with Praeludium, a transformative effort, recorded with crystalline clarity--it demands, and rewards, repeated listening.


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