Pamela Sklar — Silver Pharaoh: An Original Tribute to Ancient Egypt. MSR Classics (2013)
Flutist/composer Pamela Sklar has produced a most unusual recording, but then she is a most unusual artist. With skills developed through studies with John Wummer, Julius Baker, Samuel Baron and Karl Kraber, she has performed and recorded with artists as diverse as Claude Bolling, Dave Brubeck, Alan Hovhaness, Jack Wilkins, Andrea Bocelli, Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Paul Simon, Natalie Cole, Elvis Costello and tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, has appeared on soundtracks for numerous movies and TV series, has published music in a wide range of genres and appears with at least half-a-dozen different ensembles in styles from Renaissance to contemporary, to jazz to Native-American forms.
Having gained fluency in so many musical realms, it is interesting to see where Sklar turned her hand for her own recordings. She has chosen to exploit her fascination with ancient musical traditions. Her first recording, A Native-American Jazz Tribute: A Tune for America focused on the most ancient forms to be found within her North American heritage. Here she shifts her attention to the most ancient forms to be found on Planet Earth, those of ancient Egypt. She makes no claim to expertise as ethnomusicologist or music historian, however. Rather, as with the American tribute, she allows various specific influences to flavor her imagination and stands back to see what emerges.
Iconography tells us something of the instruments and purposes of ancient Egyptian music, and other clues can be found in extant traditional forms, but Egyptians did not notate their music before the Graeco-Roman period, so attempts to reconstruct pharaonic music remain speculative; nobody knows with any certainty how it may have sounded. The best that can done lies in the realm of creative reconstructions, such as those carried out by composer/multi-instrumentalist Michael Atherton in 1998. Pamela Sklar makes no claims even for that; this is the work of an artist, not an archaeologist, something she calls “an original musical tribute to ancient Egyptian culture.”
The program Sklar presents is essentially a series of tone poems. Some, such as the opening Sahara Trance and Hatshepsut, do have a quasi Ancient Egyptian orientation. It has been suggested that they would not sound out of place as the sound track to a documentary about ancient Egypt. As the sequence unfolds, however, the compositions, while they retain something of the Middle-Eastern sheen, move into a variety of colors with suggestions of other genres — a touch of jazz here, a nod to the neoclassical Stravinsky there — delivered through a variety of instrumental combinations, from Sklar’s solo flute at the outset, duos of bass flute with percussion or contrabassoon, a couple of flute ensembles — one five flutes plus organ, another all overdubbed Sklar. One track was originally written for the ensemble Threeds, consisting of one oboe and two English horns. Two things every track shares are the highest quality of both performance and recorded sound.
Excerpts from all the tracks are thoughtfully provided at Pamela’s website . While brief, the are sufficient to give an impression of the music. It is instantly evident that this is not your average recording. It may not be authentic ancient music — who knows what ‘authentic’ means — but it skilfully draws on an ancient aesthetic to enliven contemporary composition and that is something worth doing.
Review by Peter Westbrook
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