Brian Farrell dives into Bach on his 'Chaconne' album
Most weeks we take a peek at recent albums or sheet music releases. Here are three of the CDs that have come into the Classical Guitar office recently.
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Some of the albums we talk about online will be reviewed in the magazine, some not. But we want to at least mention most of them here. You can listen to some of these on various of streaming services, but we always encourage you to support the artists by actually buying anything you like! Obviously we cannot research and report every outlet or online business where these albums are sold, so check your favorite places that sell CDs and downloads!
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Brian Farrell Chaconne
The most recent time I listened to this album from start to end, I happened to be doing some gardening, so I had it dialed in on Apple Music. The Irish guitarist’s album presents one suite each from Bach’s Violin Partitas, Violin Sonatas, and Cello Suites. Each of the three contains at least one popularly played movement frequently performed in isolation by soloists of various instruments. If Bach has modern “hits” (and he does!) they certainly include the “Prelude” of Cello Suite No. 1, the “Presto” of Sonata No. 1, and, grandest of all (both in size and emotional heft), the “Ciaconna” from Partita No. 2. It’s easy to understand why players from Segovia to today often choose to play just one or two pieces from Bach’s suites (more room for variety in a program!), but I must say, the more I’ve listened to Bach’s suites performed in their entirety, the more I appreciate how they hang together as full pieces.
For some reason, this really struck me again as I was gardening through the album-opening Partita No. 2. With a couple of other recent listenings of the “Ciaconna” by other guitarists still in my head, I was suddenly hearing connections between the movements in ways I hadn’t previously, and also sensing the inevitability of their culmination in that massive fifth movement. On this cool winter day, the blue sky streaked with grey and white clouds, sun occasionally bursting through to bathe my yard with great golden blasts between the quickly moving cumulus castles, I was stopped short in my labors by the dramatic opening of the “Ciaconna.” So I dropped my clippers, sat down on a ledge, and spent the next 13 minutes in a state of pure rapture, watching the sky show, pondering Bach, marveling at his uncanny ability to express the ineffable and to both ask and answer questions that reach deep into the soul. Surely this is what IT is all about!
So, obviously, Farrell’s “Ciaconna” worked for me. In fact, I like the whole album. There’s a brightness to Farrell’s tone—and a lively, ambient quality to the recording—that is perfect for the many buoyant dance movements, yet also lends an appropriate sonic depth to the graceful and moving sarabandes. It feels as though we’re in the front row of a beautiful old church listening to a master guitarist “receiving” Bach’s genius from On High. And that’s a great place to spend some time.
All works by J.S. Bach: Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004; Sonata No. 1 in A minor (BWV 1001); Cello Suite No. 1 in D major (BWV 1007)
Veteran American guitarist and composer Jonathan Sargent would like us to “experience peace, reverence and a sense of joy” when we listen to this lovely and soothing album of 14 short original pieces (including one three-part sonata), most of them deeply influenced by Spanish and Argentinian music. Sargent’s writing has a friendly, familiar sound, with a strong emphasis on soaring, small-“r” romantic melodies which, on most tracks, finds his crystalline guitar work augmented by tasteful strings (and occasionally other instruments). The pieces on the album were inspired by his travels around the globe, including Spain, Argentina, Italy and various far-flung spots around the USA, from New York to Alaska. Some of his Spanish tropes have a where-have-I-heard-that-before (Rodrigo? Llobet?) quality to them, but it’s hard to argue with the way Sargent has put together these reliably pleasant—but not quite saccharine—pieces. He is unabashedly and explicitly tugging at our emotions, asking us to feel something, and in that regard he succeeds. If you’re a fan of Stanley Myers’ Cavatina, chances are you’ll like this.
It should be noted, too, that there are a few pieces here that do have a little edge to them, such as Tango #4 and Bienvenido a la Danza, both of which feature accordion, and maybe have some Piazzolla influence in them. Also, his Sonata in E offers a nice change of pace, with its jaunty Baroque flavors (and Original Adagio is a beautiful piece originally slated to be part of the Sonata).
It took me a couple of listens to fully embrace Sargent’s safe and serene approach, but it has grown on me and now I’m quite fond of it; it’s just right for certain moods.
Spanish Sun Blazin’; Even Now; Tango #4; Una Buena Noche; Más Que Siempre; For You; Dos Enamorados (Two in Love); Evocatión; Sonata in E; Fuego; Bienvenudo a la Danza; Original Adagio; Reading, PA/A Requiem
Mohit Dubey describes himself as “the son of Indian and German scientists” and “a young classical guitarist and physicist-in-the-making currently living in Los Alamos, New Mexico.” It will be interesting to see which career he ultimately chooses (his Facebook page says he works at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, most famous for helping develop the atomic bomb in the 1940s), but from the only perspective I have on him—as a classical guitarist—it would appear he has a bright musical future in front of him.
In a program dominated by multi-movement pieces, Dubey takes us on an engaging and enlightening historical journey, beginning in the Baroque with a well-executed Bach Lute Suite (BWV 996 contains the much-played “Bourree”); then jumping to 19th century for a pair of etudes by Regondi (No. 8 is particularly pretty); and into the 20th century for Antonio Lauro’s fresh and wonderfully varied Suite Venezolana, which turns out to be a nice match to the even more modern-sounding Libra Sonatine by Roland Dyens that follows. Dubey is particularly effective on the Dyens, which is not an easy piece to play well (especially “Fuoco”). The album closes on a completely different note: Allah Kabeer (sometimes spelled “Kabir” or “Kabr”) by Fairuz (or “Fairouz”) sounds from the title and author like it should be redolent with Middle Eastern scents, but actually, in Dubey’s spare and elegant arrangement, feels the most American of anything else here; I could imagine it on a record by Windham Hill acoustic players such as Will Ackerman or Alex De Grassi. It’s a lilting and lyrical piece that opens and then blooms like an exquisite flower. A nice way to end this fine album. (By the way, I went on YouTube and found a startlingly different version of the Fairuz tune, with electric guitar, vocals, and more, but still dominated by the same intoxicating opening motif.)
Lute Suite in E minor, BWV 996 (J.S. Bach); Etude No. 1 in C major and Etude No. 8 in G major (Regondi); Suite Venezolana (Lauro); Libra Sonatine (Dyens); Allah Kabeer (Fairuz, arr. Dubey)
The album can be listened to and purchased through Bandcamp.