Some 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 within the past few months.
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Some of the albums I write 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 (Amazon, for instance, has outlets in many different countries/regions, but we generally link to the U.S. version), so check your favorite places that sell CDs and downloads!
To see links to all of our online album listings/reviews, click here.
The Secrets of the Gypsy Guitar
Zingaresca Duo: Vadim Kolpakov & Oleg Timofeyev
Not to be confused with the “Gypsy jazz” guitar of Django Reinhardt, et al, this is a collection of traditional Russian and Russian Gypsy folk songs arranged for two 7-string Russian guitars (and occasional bass and percussion). You may recall that we interviewed Oleg Timofeyev in Classical Guitar a couple of years ago surrounding the release of the Brilliant Classics 7-CD box set The Russian Guitar 1800–1850 (a collaboration with guitarist John Schneiderman). Well, the Zingaresca Duo is another of Timofeyev‘s interests, this one spearheaded by the Russian Roma guitarist Vadim Kolpakov, whose uncle, Alexander Kolpakov, is another prominent Russian guitarist. “IARMAC” stands for International Academy for Russian Music, Arts, and Culture, which is the nonprofit organization that produces Timofeyev’s Russian guitar festival (IARGUS; the International Annual Russian Guitar Seminar and Festival) that takes place each year in Iowa (where he lives and teaches).
I’m going to shamelessly steal this description of the album from Kolpakov’s website: “The Italian word ‘Zingaresca’ means ‘in a Gypsy style’: The ensemble interweaves the written Russian guitar heritage with the best traditions of the Russian Gypsies, thus blending the sophistication of classical music with the fiery vitality of folk musical expression. For their current projects, Oleg and Vadim use a great range of musical resources, such as rare guitar publications of Mikhail Vysotsky (1791-1837), virtuoso arrangements of Sergei Orekhov (1936-1998), and the original compositions of Vadim’s celebrated uncle Alexander Kolpakov. But since the ensemble’s goal is to bridge an array different musical styles, their success mostly depends on their own imagination as music arrangers and performers. At times, such as in Vysotsky’s compositions, it takes a sensitive ear to distill and exaggerate the Gypsy element from otherwise classical musical fabric. Alternatively, Vadim and Oleg are incorporating folk tunes into classical structures, creating a colorful and enjoyable experience.”
I think we all have some impression in our minds of what we think Russian folk music sounds like (whether or not we know many or any specific songs), and for me, this disc conforms to those notions exactly: The rhythms, the melodies, many of the chord progressions, the way songs build—it all has a warmly familiar feel to it; as “Russian” as Torroba or Albéniz are “Spanish.” And, actually, I would add that fans of Django (and I have been one for decades!) will probably love this disc. After all, his jazz was thoroughly informed by his roots in Romany music and culture (which he never abandoned), and a few of the songs here veer into that jazzy territory—listen to Moscow Windows, for example. The guitar-playing throughout the album is truly spectacular; at points jaw-droppingly virtuosic (check out the solo number Fantasia, written by Alexander Kolpakov). Highly recommended!
I Hear Your Voice Again; Along the Kazanka River; A Nightingale; A Cossack Went Beyond the Danube; Oriental Gypsy Dance “Are You Joking?”; I Was on My Way Home; The Gypsies are Traveling; The Godmother; Moscow Polka; Dance, Dzhandzha; Fantasia; Vengerka; The Dark Eyes; Starushka (An Old Woman); Sare Patria (“All the Cards”); Moscow Windows
So far, the album can be purchased only through vadimkolpakov.com. Hopefully, the album will shortly become available through other outlets, as well.
This album came in a while back and I’ve found myself playing it a lot; always a good sign. Andrew McEvoy is an American guitarist (based in Virginia), and this beautifully made album is the guitarist’s tribute to the great Roland Dyens. At its heart are three Dyens works, all played with the verve and skill of the master himself—the moody, thrilling, and unpredictable Saudade No. 3; the beautiful, lilting Songe Capricorne; and the dazzlingly exuberant four-part musical roller-coaster ride that is the Hommage a Villa-Lobos. McEvoy never falters in his interpretations of these virtuosic pieces; there is a clarity and vigor to his attack that shows how he has internalized them.
Interspersed among the Dyens are two pieces each by Chopin and Tárrega, and one by Villa-Lobos—all very well-rendered, but with slight creative liberties taken—and, as important, perfectly sequenced so that each piece coherently leads to the next one. As McEvoy noted in an email to me, “It’s a concept that uses key relationships to make flowing transitions between pieces by Dyens, Chopin, Tárrega, and Villa-Lobos. Basically I imagined Roland in dialogue with some of his favorite composers.
“Paris—and society music therein—is the common thread between all the composers on the record. If these composers were ever to meet in some fantastical dream space, it would surely resemble Paris. I tried to show an ambitious and free musical society that was able to associate many cultures and create something both exotic and familiar. Dyens gets a few Americanisms from me, Tárrega’s Adelita gets some rhythms from Chopin, Villa-Lobos’ Chôro gets some ornamentation that would endear it to a late 19th/early 20th century Parisienne salon, etc.
“I felt it important to make these ‘free’ interpretations, for better or worse, because there is a lot of conservatism in classical guitar right now that keeps many artists from having their own ideas and opening themselves to new audiences in an authentically emotional way (which is, for me, the point.) It seems to me there is little joy in living a mildly pleasing life of absolute correctness.
“Which is not to say that conservatism doesn’t have its place. I put Chopin’s original ornaments back into Tárrega’s arrangement of the famous Nocturne Op. 9 No.2—I think Tárrega would have loved that. His personal take on that Nocturne, with a big cadenza, etc., has its place in late 19th century concert life, but for Parlor Tricks, I wanted the earlier, salon version—while keeping many Tárrega-isms in place that still worked: portamenti, register changes, string specific melodic fingerings.”
All in all, a very fine effort that accomplishes what it sets out to do!
Saudade No. 3 (Dyens), Mazurka, Op. 6 No. 2 (Chopin); Sueño (Mazurka) (Tárrega); Adelita (Mazurka) (Tárrega); Nocturne, Op. 9 No. 2 (Chopin); Songe Capricorne (Dyens); Gavotta Chôro (Villa-Lobos); Hommage a Villa-Lobos (Dyens)
Dreams Laid Down
Another fascinating outing from the prolific British Columbia–based Alan Rinehart (his previous release was the exceptional Verdi’s Guitar), this hour-long album consists of contemporary works by five composers, only one of whom I have encountered before (William Beauvais). All except Richard Gibson’s Variationes sobre una Tema de Juan Lennon are multi-part works. All are premieres except for David Gordon Duke’s Soliloquies and Dreams, which Rinehart previously recorded on an album with that title.
The John Lennon theme in the Gibson piece is from the beautiful song “Julia,” originally on The Beatles’ “White Album” (actually titled The Beatles), released 50 years ago. The variations deconstruct the melody in some interesting ways, though each time I hear it, it makes me want to go back and listen to the perfect original again. (Sorry, I’m very picky about my Beatles interpretations; great choice, though, and its charming that Gibson wrote the piece for his daughter Julia’s wedding!)
More to my liking are the two suites that sandwich the Lennon variations. The album-opening title track, Dream Laid Down, by Michael Karmon, is a wonderful six-part work inspired by poems from a book (also called Dreams Laid Down) written by Rinehart’s wife, Janice Notland; each with its own distinctive character and mood, ranging from jaunty to pensive to folky, with lots of other shadings mixed in. And John Oliver’s six-part Ancient Heroes Suite uses the inspiration of various Renaissance and Baroque composers (Milán, Dowland, Sanz, Bach, and Couperin), along with the medieval Persian poet Rumi, for a diverse and satisfying 23+ minutes of engaging and sometimes mystical musings.
I don’t know how literal you want to get with a piece like Beauvais’ two-part Beginning of the Day, but my experience of it is that the first minute-and-a-half or so of the first movement sounds like the sun slowly rising, brushing away the last vestiges of darkness, and then… well, is it the city awakening to a new day, with its noise and dissonance? Who knows, but the piece progresses through a number of different textures, from pinging harmonic whispers to clashing and vaguely unpleasant juxtapositions of notes; fascinating! David Gordon Duke’s closing Soliloquies and Dreams consists of seven short, unnamed sketches (the longest is 1:20, the shortest 27 seconds) that manage to communicate quite a bit despite their brevity—fleeting glimpses of… whatever your own psyche brings to them, I guess. A thoughtful and adventurous album.
Dreams Laid Down: Swirl of Finches, Change, Wind Musician, Gateway, If Nothing Else, Dreams Laid Down (Karmon); Variationes sobre una tema de Juan Lennon, Op. 89 (Gibson); Ancient Heroes Suite: Couperin’s Ghost, Pavanas of Milan, Dowland’s Spanish Galliard, Sarabandas of Rumi, Canarios de Gaspar, Pasacaille (Oliver); Beginning of the Day (Beauvais); Soliloquies and Dreams I-VII (Duke)
Here are two pieces from the album: