Album Review of
Cappricio Fantastico

Written by Joe Ross
October 20, 2014 - 12:00am EDT
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The Italian mandolin may have descended from such 10th century instruments as the Ud from Arabic lands, and following centuries saw such European instruments as the lute, quintern, chitarra, pandora, colascione and others appear on the scene. In the 18th and 19th centuries, developments in construction led to the successful mandolin. In the 1830s, luthier Pasquale Vinaccia redesigned a mandolin with eight strings (or four courses tuned in fifths like a violin) that was played with a tortoiseshell plectrum instead of a quill.            

Brian Oberlin is a master mandolinist, and he taps into the instrument’s Italian roots. All of the music on “Cappricio Fantastico” was written for solo or accompanied mandolin between 1750 - 1900. At tracks 2 and 5, Oberlin offers tunes that may have been heard in an 18th century parlor in Naples. “Capriccio #5” and “Capriccio #6” were composed by Pietro Denis (1720-1790). Presumably, all of the pieces on Oberlin’s album of Italian classical solo mandolin eventually found their way to America by the late 1800s as Italians emigrated to this country, especially around New York.

For scintillating sounds using the duo style, I especially enjoyed “Santa Lucia” and “Melodie.” Oberlin also frequently plays the beautifully soothing lullaby “Notturno” in his live performances, with a nod to the hip name of its composer, Constantino Bertucci. I was very happy to see Oberlin close the album with two works from Raffaele Calace, a composer whom I was somewhat familiar. Raffaele (and his brother Niccolo) both received sound musical educations at the Naples Conservatorie of Music, and their compositions rank among the finest for mandolin. Raffaele’s compositions include several fine solos for mandolin with piano, and Oberlin certainly rises to the challenge of presenting them totally solo.        

The eclectic Brian Oberlin is simply one of the most happening mandolin players at present. When playing swing or jazz, he grooves. On “Capriccio Fantastico,” we appreciate his technical accomplishment and mastery of the instrument with renditions that incorporate clarity, tone and dynamics. Oberlin’s tasteful rendering of these melodies make for a very smooth, relaxing listen, along with strong affirmation of the historic roots of the instrument. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)