NOVARIA, a flute and classical guitar duo, was founded in 1990. The combination of flute and classical guitar has a venerable history dating back to the era of Beethoven. All of the selections on this recording are premieres, newly composed, or arranged for flute and guitar by NOVARIA.
James Greeson is an Professor of music composition and guitar at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He is widely known as both a classical and jazz guitarist. His compositions for orchestras and chamber ensembles have been performed across the United States. Ronda Mains is a Professor of flute and music education at the University of Arkansas. She has performed solo and chamber music nationally and abroad. An advocate of contemporary music, she often commissions new works for flute.
James Greeson's Seven Songs for Sundays are sophisticated settings of well known hymns and spirituals. The set grew out of a request for Novaria to perform at a memorial service in 1995 for Senator William J. Fulbright in his home town of Fayetteville, Arkansas. His widow requested his favorite hymn, Amazing Grace. With no arrangement of this popular hymn available for flute and guitar, the one heard in this set was quickly sketched out. This became such a popular selection in concerts that soon an entire group of variation settings of well known hymns evolved.
Jacob's Ladder is a passacaglia with the melody of the hymn returning as the fixed element. The ladder image is conveyed by major scales that ascend at increasing speeds. O Come Emmanuel creates a serene atmosphere with the haunting sound of the alto flute. The guitar harmonics evoke the sound of ancient bell towers. We Gather Together begins with a solo guitar statement of this Netherlandish melody and culminates in a joyous version of the melody shared between the flute and guitar. Jesus Loves Me is an homage to J.S. Bach's wonderful "Gigues." Here the variations precede the melody and become simpler until the well known tune is revealed about two-thirds of the way through the piece. Amazing Grace explores the folksy roots of this much loved hymn in its first statement, leading to more sophisticated restatements with flowing counterpoint in the guitar enveloping the melody in the flute. Brother, Can You Pray for Me? is the least known of the set. It is a bluesy, free-form setting of the spiritual exploiting the piccolo and the dark colors of the phrygian mode. The finale is another spiritual, Down by the Riverside. This is a rollicking, jazzy romp that nearly gets out of hand before the melody returns.
Claude Debussy (1862-1918) composed Deux Arabesques for piano, but this transcription by Novaria suits the lyrical character of the pieces beautifully. Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) was a Brasilian guitarist-composer. The original form was for soprano and eight cellos. He subsequently transcribed it for guitar and voice; in this recording the voice part is played by the flute. Each of Felix Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) Songs Without Words is a finely crafted gem perfectly exemplifying the Romantic genre of "character pieces." The rather quaint titles did not originate with Mendelssohn, but with his publisher who hoped to make them more appealing to their Victorian audience - a strategy that worked. The transcriptions are by Dr. Greeson.
Arioso is based on a solo guitar piece by the famous guitarist and composer Fernando Sor (1778-1839). A lyrical flute melody by Dr. Greeson has been superimposed on Sor's original guitar work.