Canadian Guitarist’s Art On Generous Display In Disc Of Her Own Works

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Canadian guitarist Dale Kavanagh performs her own solo works on her new CD.

Kavanagh Plays Kavanagh. Dale Kavanagh, guitar. NAXOS 8.551449.

DIGITAL REVIEW — Kavanagh Plays Kavanagh, the latest album by Dale Kavanagh, rides on the strength of the Canadian guitarist’s impeccable technique, which also elevates her contributions as a composer of short pieces in a very approachable style. The classical guitar composer-performer might be something of a rarity, perhaps attributable to a reliance on established repertoire, which makes new recordings and recitals attractive to the general public. Though Kavanagh has recorded original music before, this is her first album exclusively featuring her own works.   

Kavanagh has a sure sense of structure and clarity that she combines with the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the guitar. Virtually all the pieces in the collection are built from basic principles of repetition and contrast, which betrays not so much a deliberate simplicity but an effectiveness and immediacy in capturing essential moods.  

Her approach is to create repetitive phrases that feed off each other to form a coherent whole. She elicits a semblance of familiarity that gives her music the illusion it has been around as long as that of Agustin Barrios Mangoré, the early 20th-century Paraguayan master whom Kavanagh pays tribute to in the second of her two Impressions. A highlight of the album, it opens with pensive, minor-key, arpeggiated figures that appear to be searching for something; the pattern is repeated in a higher register, as Kavanagh channels Barrios’ signature tremolo style.

The first Impression, inspired by Malcolm Arnold, is no less striking. It opens with stately chords joined by a descending bass line that works as a hook. The development sections between reiterations of the motif consist of diatonic runs up the scale, with conclusive cadences signaling new tonalities.

The gently cascading strums that bookend Going Nowhere set the scene for the more developed pieces on the album, while in Briny Ocean, based on a Canadian folk song, there is a motivic phrase in the high register — adorned with artificial harmonics — forming the home ground that soon becomes familiar.

Most of the pieces, averaging about four minutes, feel like they’ve been stripped of previous interstitial material that proved superfluous. Take the sudden contrasts in tempo, mood, and texture of Briny Ocean and Bayberry Crescent — the latter is the second part of Toronto 98, one of Kavanagh’s reflections on her old stomping grounds. Bayberry Crescent opens with what the composer describes as a lullaby; she achieves a warm, honeyed tone in the high register at the lullaby’s slow tempo. That warmth is also felt in Fundy, another geographical nod, this time to the imposing tides of the Bay of Fundy, near Kavanagh’s native Nova Scotia. 

The signature recurring motifs with artificial harmonics are particularly impressive in Abbeywood Trail. This time the pattern is counterbalanced by a simultaneous rumbling in the low strings. As the piece develops, Kavanagh employs lively rasgueado strumming and flights up the fretboard, tempered by her refined expressivity.

Through subtle touches that reveal a mature musicianship, Kavanagh Plays Kavanagh earns its place in the contemporary classical guitar discography.

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