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Gravity and Air spotlights composer Andrew McKenna Lee as a virtuoso performer, playing three of his large-scale works for solo classical guitar. The album proves Lee as a composer “continually finding new ways to work the guitar’s rougher, more sensual textures into classical frameworks” (eMusic). “Five Refractions of a Prelude by Bach” takes J.S. Bach’s Prelude for Lute and “refracts” it into a set of highly elaborate fantasies that “map” directly onto critical structural and harmonic elements of Bach’s prelude. Scordatura Suite is a collection of three pieces for solo guitar, each in a different tuning – ”Arabescata,” ”Dizzying Array,” and the stunning title track, ”Gravity and Air.” The altered tunings give rise to chords and voicings that would otherwise be impossible on the instrument.
Together, these pieces tackle what Lee considers the central challenge of classical guitar composition: how to create a body of resonant sound from a quiet instrument whose notes decay quickly. Lee rejects the time-honored solution of relying heavily on open strings, which in his view lead to “tired chords and sonorities,” preferring to use grace notes, turns, trills, harmonics, arpeggios, and other ornaments to create “a feeling of contained chaos being directed along a carefully and clearly directed path.” His “highly engaging” (The Silent Ballet) playing on Gravity and Air has been said to “tend as much toward elegant restraint as it does to aggressive exuberance” (textura). The album also includes a fifteen-minute chamber work, “the dark out of the nighttime,” scored for guitar, flute, viola, and harp, a nocturnal essay in plucked and sustained sonorities. Lee is joined in this piece by janus (Amanda Baker, flute; Nuiko Wadden, harp; Beth Meyers, viola) whose own CD, i am not, appeared on New Amsterdam in early 2010.