Ravel, Debussy, and More on ‘Intimate Impressions’ From Adam Cicchillitti and Steve Cowan

From the September/October 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Blair Jackson

Described in the liner notes as “20th century works written in Paris,” Intimate Impressions by Canadian classical guitarists Adam Cicchillitti and Steve Cowan draws heavily on their own arrangements of piano works by French Impressionist composers Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, but also includes Federico Mompou’s sumptuous “Musica Callada,” a beautiful harp sonata by Germaine Tailleferre, and a contemporary two-guitar piece by Andre Jolivet. The sonic palette is broad and deep—the melodies rich without being overbearing, the harmonies sometimes unconventional and unpredictable, the textures lush but still tasteful.

Cicchillitti and Cowan have worked together enough that they have developed the necessary duo telepathy that allows them to gracefully and effortlessly pass musical ideas back and forth, sometimes completing each other’s thoughts, it seems, other times answering with bold new statements and ideas. The arrangements are universally brilliant; kudos to both for developing fresh repertoire for the guitar. Each guitarist also has a solo spotlight: Cicchillitti on Debussy’s Arabesque, No. 1 and Cowan on Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte. Jolivet’s Sérénade is the only piece with what I would call late-20th century sensibilities (it was written in the ’50s), yet it somehow fits in well amidst the more melodic fare. And, in truth, Ravel and Debussy were modern for their time: You can hear their influence on composers as diverse as Gershwin, Stravinsky, a number of early jazz and pop songwriters, and even on minimalists such as Steve Reich. These two virtuosos are clearly at the top of their game.

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