CD Review: This Time/ Grigoryan Brothers


“Nothing is more beautiful than a guitar, save perhaps two” – a quote attributed to Fredric Chopin.

When those two guitars are played by brothers who have shared a journey in both life and music the combined effect is something special.

This Time the CD released by the Grigoryan brothers, Slava and Leonard is the  latest collaboration between the classically trained siblings, each playing classical and steel-stringed guitar and kantele – a traditional plucked string instrument of the dulcimer and zither family native to Finland and related to the Japanese koto. Joining them are Luke Howard on piano and drones and Ólafur Björn Ólafsson on percussion.

Recorded in June 2014 in Oslo and Reykjavik this is the brothers’ 6th duo recording. The 14 tracks contain 69 minutes of music composed by Leonard Grigoryan, Ralph Towner, Shaun Rigney, Luke Howard, Nigel Westlake, William Lovelady and Philip Houghton.

Given that the recording contains the music of seven different composers, it encompasses a range of styles which the brothers have cleverly woven into a sequence of moods. Perhaps one unifying feature is the minimalism in the writing of much of the music – columns of chords and meandering melodies anchored by repeated figures in the bass line.

The music has a pervasive gentleness – opening with Grigoryan’s title track, This Time which is introduced with a pedal point which unfurls to a minimalist accompaniment above which soars a contemplative melody. His other composition on the CD, After Dark, is rather more sombre, built on three repeated descending chords.

Ralph Towner’s two compositions Duende and Sarabande add sense of dance – Duende is exotic and Latin; Sarabande is solemn and dignified.

Shaun Rigney’s Two Swings in the Heart Shaped Garden was inspired by a heart-shaped Play-Doh scene created by his daughter. It’s rhythmic and playful melody floats above a bass pedal point.

The influence of minimalism is again present in Longplay by Luke Howard. Its opening sequence conveys a sense of urgency, and like Philip Houghton’s Wave Radiance, a shimmering piece that ebbs and flows, is constructed on an unyielding bass. However, Howard’s piece speaks through harmonising chords whilst Houghton’s piece speaks through chord clusters.

British composer William Lovelady’s Incantation No 2  is a gently swaying, haunting piece which is  more diatonic and conventional in its harmonies. Originally written for Slava, Lovelady has created this transcription for the two brothers.

The centrepiece of the tracklist is Nigel Westlake’s  six movement suite Mosstrooper Peak. This sonata for two guitars was originally written for solo guitar in 2010 and transcribed in 2011 especially for the brothers. Westlake writes ” Based on an identical form as the original solo, the second guitar part has been added in order to amplify the resonances, augment the harmonic structure and share and ornament the melodies and textures, resulting in a tightly knit, intimate dialogue between the 2 instruments.”

Westlake continues “Each movement ( Burning Point, Mosstrooper Peak, Nara Inlet, Tangalooma, Butterfly Bay, Smokey Cape)  is named after a remote location on the east coast of Australia, places that hold a special meaning for me and that were visited during a huge time of upheaval in my life. They are locations of repose and meditation, and upon each site stands a shrine to the memory of my son Eli.”

The suite is a wistful journey through landscapes painted in harmony and dissonance, wonder and apprehension, disquiet and contentment.

Westlake describes building a shrine of shells and flowers, incense and candles to the memory of his son Eli, one of triggers which led him to compose Mosstrooper Peak – a sort of cathartic impulse. “Thus begins” he writes, “a practice of remembrance that will become a daily ritual over the coming months. On each occasion the shrines will become larger and more elaborate, and the places upon which they are built will become more remote & precarious. They are located within caves and crevices amongst peaceful inlets, tidal estuaries, coral beaches, and on rocky ridges upon the tropical islands overlooking the fringing reefs and deep blue waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Some of the shrines will be washed away by peak tides and cyclones, others will stand for hundreds of years. ” 

An intimate companion for a quiet evening. 

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney© 

‘This Time’ is available on the Which Way Music label WWM 022.


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