Review of ‘The New Classical Ukulele’ CD by Donald Bousted. Reviewed by Paul Mansell
I recently had the pleasure of hearing Donald Bousted, the classical ukulele player, perform this CD live, so I was very excited to get my hands on the actual CD. There are very few albums of modern classical ukulele music out there, so a lot was resting in Donalds hands. Luckily, he enlisted the help of some very fine composers, who wrote pieces specifically for the Ukulele – Martin Bright, Loretta Notareschi, Jim Dalton, and Sam Muir . The ukulele has in recent years come a long way to be respected as a classical instrument in it’s own right – but if thi sjourney is to continue, our diminutive little friend (The ukulele, not Donald) must attarct some of the finest composersto write for it.
Well first off, the playing on this CD is sublime. Donald extracts a wonderful tone from his ukulele, and his changes in tone are subtle but compelling. The recroding is sublime and the playing effortless and smooth roughout.
As for the pieces, they come in all shapes and forms. The CD begins with with Water No 20 by Martin Bright. This lovely piece has a real Japanese feel to it. The ukulele seems to bounce easily between playing the lead and letting the percussive sounds mingle in the background, to taking a back seat and letting the percussion take over.
The five etudes by Loretta K Notareschi really demonstrate the ukuleles abilities in all their glory. If the ukulele is to be accepted further in classical fields, then compositions like these can only help. Blending Eastern sounding chords with delicious ascending and descending runs these pieces also go a long way to demonstrating the beauty of the re-entrant tuning. The Etudes remind me somewhat of Leo Brouwer pieces, with the same light touch. The pieces often revolve around a repeating root note while the melody goes off in wonderful direction - but quickly returning to ‘home’. All the pieces by Loretta have a very modern feel to them but at the same time I can feel elements of Matteo Carcassi running through them. All truly beautiful pieces.
Februa by Hilary Robinson is a masterful piece that again sounds quite Japanese. The wonderful melody bounces with arpeggio’d chords that create a full sounscape - but still allows room for the imagination. It then bulds slowly into a wopnderful tremelo which is beautifully controlled and executed by Donald.
The first of Three Meditations by Jim Dalton is wonderfully upbeat. Pretty descending lines coupled with masterful hammer on’s (and some very fast arpeggio runs) make for an uplifting piece. Heraclitus 11 starts more downbeat but soon has chords and harmonics darting in and out of your ears. Donald uses some wonderful control of volume here to add to the overall texture.
Pieces 11 through to 20 are all ‘The Theme and Variations on the Dowie Dens of Yarrow’ by Sam Muir. Beginning with number one, I love the way they start sounding very Medieval/Baroque, but suddenly you are confronted with a real modern twist. The two go hand in hand together though and the whole piece is very well constructed. It is so clever how Sam has a Bar that sounds Baroque, followed by a modern sounding bar, but has blended the two so effortlessly. Sam has a wonderful ability to take influence from many different periods of music and mix them together, with neither sounding out of place. At times I feel like I am listening to a beautiful ballad by John Dowland only to be suddenly awoken and slapped round the face by a touch of Francisco Tarrega – but all the time everything sounding perfectly at home. Theme 5 is especially beautiful and again one can hear clear influence from the romantic period of the guitar, Carulli especially, yet still with a gorgeous twist of the modern. The Theme’s round of with a more eastern feel and one feels as if the journey is complete. The harrowing harmonics at the beginning of Theme X round the whole set of pieces off stunningly.
The four modes by Loretta Natereschi that then come again have more of a Baroque feel to them. They feel slightly more melodic, with chords backing up the beautiful melodic runs. The pieces then progress to treat us to Flamenco influences in Mood 2. The wonderful Spanish sounding chords manage to sound old yet new at the same time. The piece actually reminds me very slightly of ‘Golen Brown’ by The Stranglers, only if it were played by Paco Pena
The final piece is written by Donald himself and ‘Thank you for staying (with Her) is a sparce landscape of a piece. To be this brave and put this on was wonderful. Again the piece has some wonderful percussion on it which mixes seamlessly with the ukulele. I could imagine listening to this whilst staring at the sea for endless hours. Donald plays enough to keep you interested, but leaves enough gaps to allow you to not feel crowded. Didn’t a famous man once say something about it was the notes you didn’t play that mattered most.
I thoroughly enjoyed the CD and believe it will help push the Ukulele further forward. To get these wonderful composers on board was a wonderful achievement by Donald and when you mix this with Donalds virtuosi playing, the whole album is a delight. Available to purchase at www.donaldbousted.com