Both Old and New: Mark Small reviews New Renaissance by Los Angeles Guitar Quartet.
With New Renaissance, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet glances back to historic music and then carries the themes forward to the 21st century. Bill Kanengiser’s “Music from the Time of Cervantes” opens the disc, with 16 short renditions of pieces by major and minor Renaissance composers. It represents the musical component of a multimedia piece titled “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote,” for which Kanengiser adapted the storyline of Miguel de Cervantes’ 1605 novel for guitars and narrator. British funnyman John Cleese provided the voice for its 2009 premiere.
The 32-minute work spotlights Kanengiser’s delightfully creative arrangements of familiar vihuela pieces by Luys de Narváez, Alonso Mudarra, and Luys de Milán, interspersed with less-known works by Antonio Martín y Coll and several anonymous composers. Kanengiser’s orchestration taps all the resources four guitars can muster, including tremolo, light as well as vigorous rasgueado strumming, concerted passages played pizzicato and in harmonics, and campanella scale work, plus numerous percussive effects imitating castanets and hand drums. The constantly shifting musical moods move between upbeat rustic dances (jácaras, chaconas, canarios) to plaintive ballads, madrigals, villancicos, and canciónes. Throughout, the quartet plays with rhythmic vitality, sensitivity, and lots of color.
Ian Krouse, in his 14-minute “Music in Four Sharps (on Dowland’s Frog Galliard),” deconstructs Dowland’s popular work bit by bit. Beginning with the bass line passed around the quartet antiphonally, the work slowly opens up, gaining momentum, adding rhythmic activity between the bass line, accompaniment voices, and high-register melodic snippets. Three-plus minutes in, we hear Dowland’s familiar running 16th-note melodies over jaunty strummed chords and later, minimalist arpeggio figures. Rasgueado chords morph into quietly brushed chords before the meditative ambiance of the opening returns and all fades to silence.
Another work linking the past and present is Dusan Bogdanovic’s “Six Ricercars on a Theme by F.C. da Milano.” Bogdanovic takes Milano’s melody on a contrapuntal journey far beyond its original conception, exploring variegated rhythmic interpolations. The piece’s six movements (each averaging a minute in length) reveal Bogdanovic’s affinity for African polyrhythms and Balkan asymmetric meters. The album closes with polyphonic settings of three brief and lovely French chansons arranged by LAGQ’s Scott Tennant.
Los Angeles Guitar Quartet