"…worth every penny."
Duo Venandi, Vonda Darr, harp; and Wendy Cohen, flute. Self-released, 2016.
Flute and harp. Harp and flute. They simply must go together. And even though Wendy Cohen and Vonda Darr played in orchestra together for several years before it occurred to them that they should make music together, (forget the rest of the band!) it would take a one-off to finally create a duo. That happened five years ago, with one piece on one program leading to a full-on recital, an appearance at the national harp conference, followed by an official christening of the Venandi Duo. Their beautiful debut disc is filled with hits, transcriptions, and a few lesser known gems, making this collection worth every penny.
The CD takes its name from the first track, Fantasie by Camille Saint-Saens, a work originally for violin and harp. Written when the composer was in his early 70s, the lines intertwine as one romantic voice, beautifully realized on the flute in Wendy’s hands, her even, lush tone rich and expressive throughout all ranges. The episodic nature requires the harpist to expand the palette at breakneck speed, which Vonda does with great ease.
Astor Piazzolla chose flute and guitar to tell the History of the Tango, since it was these portable instruments that accompanied the men who danced the first tangos, long before the bandoneón came upon the scene. Beginning at the turn of the century in a bordello, we’re reminded the first notes of this most original Argentine dance found its roots from customers awaiting their turns. Played with buzzy energy, the duo doesn’t quite capture the insouciant off-beat rhythm. But in Café 1930, the two play with just the right detached quality for the extremes of both loneliness and desire inherent in tango.
Nino Rota was Federico Fellini’s go-to composer. His are the eccentric scores for “8 ½” and “La Dolce Vita.” But he also provided some of the most memorable music for Zeferelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Coppola’s “Godfather,” for which he won and Academy Award. His duo for flute and harp is filled with a gentle tunefulness that shows the Venandi Duo in its best light, one that is as luxurious as a bubble bath. Sometimes the close miking allowed too much extraneous sizzle to override the quality of the tone, but overall, it is richly expressive.
Highlights for me included a to-die-for Andante by New Zealand composer Gareth Farr. It takes its name from falls that one can “tramp” to. I imagine the wildlife and plant life would be foreign to most of us. In one picture is a woman gleefully jumping into the pool below the falls. Venandi paint a glorious soundtrack that I’d take in my rucksack.
Following is the Celtic-infused Lughnasa by American flutist Rhonda Larson filled with harp percussion and fiddle-like qualities on the flute. The duo plays with abandon and celebration, just as you will feel listening to this splendid disc