Brian Oberlin
Capriccio Fantastico (2014)

CD and Book Review by Hermon Joyner


Brian Oberlin is a man of many talents and interests. And in the last few years, his interest in the Italian duo style of classical mandolin playing has taken hold of him. His newest CD and its companion book, Capriccio Fantastico, is the result of his experiments and endeavors in this area. Carlo Aonzo and Evan Marshall are two of the main names in the niche of duo style mandolin technique, but with this CD and book, Oberlin is ready to make his own contribution to this field. In fact, Aonzo and Marshall even contribute endorsement blurbs to the project, signaling their approval of Oberlin’s efforts.

I can see that this project has a great deal of merit and I should add that it’s designed to appeal to classical mandolin enthusiasts and the difficulty level of the written music makes it more suitable to players of intermediate to advanced skill. On the other hand, if one were patient enough and listened enough times to the excellent CD, making sense of the written music is not only possible, but nearly a sure thing.

Of course, someone of Oberlin’s skill can make anything sound easy and he goes a long way to making this music sound breezy and free. He plays with such grace and facility that every tune rolls out of his Collings MF5V mandolin like water out of a pitcher. Every note is clearly enunciated and rings like a bell. I suppose his choice of mandolin separates him from other classical mandolinists. His Collings is richer and more robust sounding than the typical classical mandolin. It’s definitely a different sound and one that I like. If anything, this difference will make this entire project more appealing to American listeners, which is definitely a good thing.

Most of the tunes were written by Italian composers before 1900 and go back as far as 1750. The exceptions to this are one tune by Tchaikovsky (“Melodie”), though it was also written before 1900, and one tune by Raffaele Calace that is heavily adapted/arranged by Oberlin, “Piccola Gavotta Bruciacchiata.” With this last tune, Oberlin allows in another interest of his, swing music, and writes an arrangement that would be right at home with Jethro Burns. It’s the perfect mash-up between Italian classical and Western swing, and one that reflects the considerable range of Oberlin’s interests and skills. It’s a great and unexpected end to this album.

Capriccio Fantastico, as a whole project, is a great and needed addition to mandolin music and is one that deserves a wide audience. As a CD by itself, it is a musical delight that charms the listener. Brian Oberlin makes fascinating choices for his musical directions and I’m always curious as to where he will go next. Capriccio Fantastico is a great showcase for Oberlin’s enormous talent and is well worth listening to. If you like classical mandolin, particularly Italian classical, this CD is for you.


Track List: Valzer Fantastico; Capriccio #5; Nottorno; Costumi Siciliani; Santa Lucia; Capriccio #6; Polka Studio; Melodie; Piccola Gavotta; Piccola Gavotta Bruciacchiata


Contact:;; CD Baby, 13909 NE Airport Way, Portland, OR 97230; 1-800-289-6923; 1-503-595-3000