Last year, on tour with the ACO’s surfing-themed program The Glide, Joseph Tawadros vowed he wouldn’t be caught dead on a board. Richard Tognetti may not have taught him to duck dive, but it’s clear the mystery of the sea exerts its thrall over Australia’s young oud virtuoso. On this his fifth album, Tawadros draws on Khalil Gibran’s description of the human spirit as “a boundless drop to a boundless ocean” for his Concerto of the Greater Sea. The six movements of the suite for oud, viola, piano and percussion are interspersed with shorter pieces recorded with the ACO’s full complement of strings back in 2006. These are as fresh as if they had been made yesterday, fitting comfortably with the concerto and documenting the ease of stylistic integration that has remained constant through years of collaboration.
Tawadros’s compositions develop from simple chord progressions that give him space to showcase his impressive finger work and explore the tangy sonorities of his instrument in soulful musings, often doubled in taut unison by Tognetti or violist Christopher Moore. The effect is breathtaking, the timbres exquisitely blended, but where it gets interesting is when the soloists are more independent, as in the lyrical Seafarer (where the oud murmurs in its lower register like a haunted raconteur) and in Remember and Existence, with intertwined, quasi-improvisatory passages from Tawadros and Tognetti. The latter two tracks are also a credit to the composer’s crisp, lively arrangements for string ensemble; however slower sections can seem stilted and harmonically uninspired, as if Tawadros was treading water. His brother James on req and bendir contributes thrilling rhythmic interplay throughout and Matt McMahon’s jazz piano textures caress the ear like lapping waves.