The Sound of Torres
The subtitle of this album is “Music from Bach to the Rolling Stones”; that certainly got my attention! And then there’s the matter of the two guitars employed by George Sakellariou: A pair of historic models crafted by Antonio de Torres—an 1862 from the luthier’s “first epoch,” nicknamed “La Leyenda”; and an 1888 model from the Secunda Epoca, “La Novia.” It’s a wonderful match of player, guitars, and repertoire; as satisfying an album that has crossed my desk in a while.
The album is dominated by five “sets” of pieces, four of them sharing the same composer, one a thematic linkage. It opens with four from J.S. Bach, with the much-played “Prelude” from Cello Suite No. 1 (BWV 1007) kicking off the program beautifully, the tones of the 1888 Torres so warm and inviting, the playing fluid and unhurried. Right off the bat we should applaud the work of recording and mixing engineer Kai Narezo for a job very well done. The “Allemande” and the moving “Sarabande” from the First Lute Suite follow, and then the Bach mini-set concludes, interestingly enough, with a second “Prelude,” this one from Cello Suite No. 3, also delightful.
Fernando Sor had been dead less than 25 years when the 1862 Torres was built, so Sakellariou’s choice of two Sor studies to play on that instrument—both lovely and involving pieces despite their brevity—really feels like a window into the past. The guitarist splits his pair of selections from Erik Satie between the two guitars, and in trying to A-B the sound of each, it’s hard for me tell whether the differences I’m hearing are in the guitars or in the compositions: Je Te Veux is a bright waltz, and Gnossienne I casts a darker, more exotic light; both sound “right.” Then, it’s two short preludes from Manuel Ponce—both rich with Spanish flavors—followed by exquisitely played milongas from Abel Fleury and Astor Piazzolla. Though in his album notes Sakellariou mentions that Abel Carlevaro told him his Campo “Preludio Americano” was inspired by Bach polyphony, it somehow feels the most “modern” on the album to me, with its skittering, irregular high melody punctuating the more graceful and even bass tones. Emilio Pujol’s Estudio VIII has a special resonance here, as the 1888 Torres on which it is played was first owned by Matilde Cuervas and then, following her death, by her husband. . . the great Emilio Pujol.
As for the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” I’ll be honest and say I was skeptical about its appearance in the program. It’s been a favorite song of mine for more than 50 years; every microsecond of the original is burned into my consciousness. So imagine my surprise to discover that Sakellariou’s arrangement fits in perfectly with everything that has preceded it. I can almost hear Bach in some of the melody, and the vibe of Fleury’s Milongueo del Ayer, and Spanish touches that almost hint at Tárrega. He manages to alter the tempo and rhythm of the original at will, but without losing its propulsive thread; quite an achievement!
The album closer is also a wonder: In a nod to his Greek heritage, Sakellariou serves up a delectable melody from Zorba the Greek, by Mikis Theodorakis. This is not the famous main theme, but an achingly pretty ballad, a wonderful grace note on which to close the program. As you can probably tell, I highly recommend this album! In fact, it’s the disc I chose to accompany my family Thanksgiving feast a couple of weeks ago, and it received raves from all those in attendance, none of them classical guitar aficionados.
Prelude BWV 1007; Allemande BWV 996; Sarabande BWV 996; Prelude BWV 1009 (all by J.S. Bach); Estudio Op. 35 No. 18 (Sor); Estudio Op. 60 No. 22 (Sor); Je Te Veux (Satie); Gnossienne I (Satie); Preludio in B (Ponce); Preludio in A (Ponce); Milongueo del Ayer (Fleury); Milonga Carrieguera, ‘Maria de Buenos Aires’ (Piazzolla); Campo ‘Preludio Americano’ (Carlevaro); Estudio VIII (Pujol); Paint It Black (Jagger/Richards); Life Goes On (Theodorakis)
Here are two tracks from the album: The first features the 1862 Torres on Abel Fleury’s Milongueo del Ayer, the second the 1888 Torres on the Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black.
Colori della Toscana
Guitar Duo Piera Dadomo & Vincenzo Torricella
Here’s another album you should not miss: Italian guitarists Piera Dadomo and Vincenzo Torricella tap into the works of four Italian composers from different eras on a truly exceptional outing which, if you use your imagination, really does paint in the “Colors of Tuscany” of the title. Three of the four composers—Boccherini, Puccini, and Castelnuovo-Tedesco—were from Tuscany, and the fourth—Angelo Gilardino—is from farther north, in Piemonte, but his piece was inspired by a hilltop town near Florence called Pian dei Giullari.
The album unfolds in chronological order by composer. Right from the lilting opening strains of Introduzione e Fandango, originally written as a quintet by Boccherini (1743–1805), it is clear that Dadoma and Torricella are fabulously sympathetic guitar partners. The chemistry is palpable, the timing flawless, the tones emanating from their guitars similar enough that it often sounds like four hands playing a single instrument. Cristemi (“chrysanthemums”), by Puccini (1858–1924) is a sad but gorgeous elegy written for a deceased duke, originally for string quartet, but transformed by Gilardino into a guitar piece for this duo. It’s easy to picture this being picked up by other duos.
Next comes the heart of the disc, six pieces by Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1969). The first four are selections from the composer’s set of 24 preludes and fugues in the major and minor keys, known collectively as Les guitares bien tempérees, inspired by Bach’s similarly structured Well-Tempered Clavier, but written for the Presti-Lagoya Duo in 1962. Again, the telepathic connection between Dadoma and Torricella comes through every piece, whether it’s a relatively freewheeling prelude or tightly woven fugue, where their lines effortlessly flow in and out of each other like merging liquids. The duo follows that with Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s better-known, three-movement Sonatina Canonica, also penned for Presti-Lagoya, a work no doubt familiar to many of you. Capping the Castelnuovo-Tedesco repertoire is, appropriately enough, his stirring Fuga Elegiaca—returning to the “prelude” and “fugue” format—this time to honor the passing of Ida Presti in 1967.
The album ends with the premiere recording of Madrigale e Ballo di Pian dei Giullari by Gilardino (b. 1941), who also wrote the informative liner notes, which appear in German, English, and Italian. Though unquestionably more modern-sounding than the other works, especially its busy middle section—with its intricate and exciting guitar conversation—it still feels tonally connected to the other pieces. The opening and closing statements of the work are gentle, melodic and spare (it sounds almost Asian to me; like it could be played on koto), effective and affecting.
Incidentally, these are two magnificent-sounding guitars, also: a 1927 Rafael Galán and a 1931 Francisco Simplicio. And the quality of the recording here, too, is noteworthy: kudos to Carlo Cappa.
Introduzione and Fandango (Boccherini); Crisantemi (Puccini); Four Preludes and Fugues by Castelnuovo-Tedesco: No. 5 in B minor, No. 13 in G major, No. 16 in E minor, No. 4 in E major; Sonatina Canonica Op. 196 (Castelnuovo-Tedesco); Madrigale e Ballo di Pian dei Giullari (Gilardino)
Some Boccherini from the album, followed by my favorite of the Castelnuovo-Tedesco Prelude & Fugue numbers:
Nuages de Beau Temps
More great music, more historic guitars! Here, the guitars are two Panormos: one made by George Panormo in 1828, the other by his son, George Louis Panormo, in 1869. They are played expertly here by the Cannella-Dubès Duo: Nausicaa Cannella and Vincent Dubès, who studied together under Odair Assad at the Royal Conservatory of Mons, Belgium. Dubès is also a luthier himself. I’m happy to say it’s another winning album from beginning to end, and in every aspect—the sparkling recording is by Frédéric Briant in Belgium.
The album begins with a Bach “Prelude and Fugue” from the Well-Tempered Clavier, which the duo dispatch with tremendous confidence and elan. Next are two three-part works by Fernando Sor. The duo’s liner notes describe Fantasie, Op. 54 bis as one of Sor’s most characteristically Iberian-sounding pieces, but it strikes me as a standard, regionally non-specific classical work until the back half of the concluding “Allegro.” Still, it’s an attractive, fun piece. Much more interesting musically (to me) is Sor’s Souvenir de Russie, Op. 63, which he composed following a stint living in Russia in the 1820s, and based in part on a couple of traditional Russian songs. It’s Romantic character is ideally suited to these guitars and musicians; such a fine performance!
We stay in Russia and return to “Preludes and Fugues” with the next number, courtesy of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975), who wrote his own 24 Prélude et fugues in 1950, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Bach’s death. Cannella-Dubès play “No. 8,” which the liner notes accurately suggest is dominated by an Eastern European klezmer theme in the Prelude, “full of life, with a hint of bitterness, to which he opposes the fugue, the longest of the [entire] opus, dark and melancholic.” And moving, I would add!
Given the first three composers represented on the disc, the final selection surprised me: The sentimental old American folk tune Shenandoah, which dates back to the early 19th century and has found its way into the repertoire of so many American folk and country musicians. Indeed, I’ve heard it most of my life, first encountering it in early elementary school in the suburbs of New York in the late 1950s. The version here is among the prettiest I’ve heard, and not at all out of place on this fine, centuries-spanning album. Interestingly, the duo notes that “the two versions [of Shenandoah] that particularly inspired us to arrange this piece are [American jazz players] Keith Jarrett’s and Charles Lloyd’s.” I’m going to have hunt those down. In the meantime, I’ll happily wallow in this one!
Prélude et fugue No. 15 BWV 884 (J.S. Bach); Fantasie Op. 54 Bis (Sor); Souvenir de Russie (Sor); 24 Préludes et Fugues: Op. 87 No. 8 (Shostakovich); Shenandoah (traditional)
In this cool promo video, Cannella and Dubè play some of Fernando Sor’s Souvenir de Russie on period instruments: