Concerto of the Greater Sea

Joseph Tawadros, oud, Australian Chamber Orchestra
Classical, Middle Eastern, New Music
ABC Classics 476 4745
Reviewed by , October 3rd, 2014

Joseph Tawadros is Australia’s leading exponent of the oud. For readers unfamiliar with this beautiful instrument it is a pear-shaped lute used traditionally in North African and Middle Eastern music. The oud and lute are descended from a common ancestor and are in turn the ancestors of the guitar.

The enrichment of Australia’s culture and music in particular is one of the many great advantages of migration from all over the world. Here the cultures mix and new pathways are created. Joseph Tawadros and his brother James, a fine percussionist, are of Egyptian heritage and have brought Middle Eastern music to Australian audiences. It’s no wonder that they have upheld Egyptian traditions and also experimented with combining their music with a wide variety of the different genres they encountered in Australia.

Joseph Tawadros

Joseph Tawadros

This CD represents two such cross-cultural projects. The first is The Greater Sea Suite in A for Oud, Piano, Viola and Percussion. The second is the Concerto of the Greater Sea with Richard Tognetti (violin) and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. While these two projects both involve the Tawadros brothers interacting with instrumentation outside the Egyptian tradition they are by definition sonically very different. The Suite is more intimate and interactive as it has just four instruments while the Concerto with the chamber orchestra is more grand, high energy and dramatic.

On first listening I much preferred the suite for the four instruments. The pieces with the orchestra seemed overblown. But then I realised that this perception was due to the very disconcerting effect of mixing these two projects up in the track order of the CD. This means that the listener jumps from the more intimate four piece suite to the orchestral energy and sonic landscape and back again constantly throughout the CD. In fact the suite is even presented in a different order to its compositional intention. I rewrote my review after changing the track order and listening again with the Suite’s six movements in correct order first followed by the concerto with the orchestra. This resulted in a much more satisfying listening experience and a far greater appreciation of the strengths of both projects.

The way the Tawadros brothers’ oud and percussion blend with the gorgeous viola of Christopher Moore and the exquisite piano playing of Matt McMahon is sublime. The range of moods, timbres and emotions expressed are both mesmerizing and thrilling. We hear music that is at times very Arabic and at other times replete with nuances of European classical styles. The oud, while being featured, is more of an equal player. The viola and piano are not merely accompaniments and make very strong thematic statements that add to the exotic textures.

The larger work with Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber orchestra is also beautifully imagined. Being a concerto it features the oud in sombre emotional passages balanced with extended flashes of virtuosic brilliance. Tognetti’s violin also features at times, adding exciting and often strange chromatic and bowing elements that give the pieces a contemporary edge. There are also some excellent percussion solos from James Tawadros. When the orchestra launches in with its power and energy the whole ensemble really flies. The collaboration with Tognetti and the orchestra was clearly a joyous event. Considering Tawadros is only 26 years old it is an impressive achievement and augers very well for future projects with orchestra.

Joseph Tawadros is one of Australia’s leading musicians. When it comes to multicultural and cross-cultural expression he, at such a young age, is leading the way.

I strongly recommend buying, changing the track order and listening to this excellent CD.

VIEW: Here are a couple of Youtube links to see the Greater Sea project in action:

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