Tengyue 'TY' Zhang has recorded an impressive recital
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 recently.
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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.
Guitar Recital Tengyue Zhang
2017 Guitar Foundation of America ICAC winner Tengyue Zhang (a.k.a. “TY”) is definitely one of the most talented young players I’ve come across during my nearly four years as editor of Classical Guitar. I don’t usually like to apply the adjective “effortless” to guitar playing—because even at the highest levels it is anything but!—however, every time I hear TY play, I’m struck by the extraordinary level of comfort and ease that his total mastery of his program communicates. And that is true on this Guitar Recital album, one of the fruits of his victory at GFA, expertly recorded, as always, by Naxos’ Norbert Kraft. Though TY trods mostly familiar and fairly popular ground in his selections, these are hardly easy pieces (to say the least!), and he manages to imbue every single work with tremendous personality, power, and nuance. He handles the trills and the tricky counterpoint of the Scarlatti sonata (which he arranged) as if it was made to be played on the guitar; his Chaconne (again, his own arrangement) digs deeply into its drama, its shadows, and its contrasts to reveal some new colorations; and the Tansman Variations are so beautiful and heartfelt. Likewise the two Goya Caprichos, which really show the singing musicality of his left-hand fingering. I was fortunate to be able to see TY play Brouwer’s Rito de los Orishas for the composer himself at a master class at this year GFA in Louisville, and was blown away—as was a nearly giddy Brouwer, whose notes on the performance were littered with the word “perfecto!” His version of the piece on this album would surely merit the same descriptor from the Maestro. The album closes with another modern masterwork, Sérgio Assad’s three-movement Aquarelle, a complex, multi-layered piece that traverses everything from graceful Romantic melodies to Brazilian folk and jazz styles to brash modern interjections; and the “Valeseana” is surely one of the contemporary guitar canon’s prettiest works.
I know it’s only August, but this album is certain to be on my Top 10 list at year’s end; what a fantastic way to spend 63 minutes!
Keyboard Sonata in D major, K53 (Scarlatti); Chaconne from Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004 (J.S. Bach); Variations on a Theme by Scriabin (Tansman); 24 Caprichos de Goya, Op. 195—XII No hubo remedio, XVIII El sueño de la razón produce monstruos (Castelnuovo-Tedesco); Rito de los Orishas— I Exordium: Conjuro, II Danza de las diosas negras (Brouwer); Aquarelle (I–III) (S. Assad)
Rossini Hayward was a new name to me when this album turned up in the post, but I became a fan on first listen. The English guitarist/composer explicitly states in the liner notes that in his compositions and arrangements on the disc, he was looking for and attempting to express beauty in different manifestations. And at that he succeeds admirably. But lest you think this is some gauzy, maudlin, easy-listening exercise designed to tug at your heartstrings, I can assure you it is not that at all.
Part of what makes this album so interesting is that Hayward is a skillful and unpretentious arranger with an ear to material that fits the guitar well. He’s not out to dazzle us with impossible fingerings, though he is clearly a very skilled player. Rather, he understands the charm and power of simplicity, as in his arrangements of several old German lullabies and children’s songs, a short piece by Renaissance composer Jacques Arcadelt, or his appropriately wistful reading of Londonderry Air/Danny Boy. His arrangements of Chopin’s “Raindrop” Prelude, Op. 28 and Bach’s O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (“O, sacred head now wounded,” from the oratorio St. Matthew Passion) both evoke beauty in different, more profound ways, perhaps. Hayward is credited with three originals, two of them his own extrapolations on existing themes: His variations on Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” are delightful and imaginative, the conceit being that they are presented as an homage to Beethoven contemporary Fernando Sor (particularly evident in the final variation); and Hayward’s Tannhäuser Fantasy artfully stitches together themes from the mid-19th century opera by Richard Wagner. Hayward’s Through Twilight Woods is completely in keeping with other pieces on the album, with moments of evocative simplicity—gentle melodies, harmonics that sound like church bells—but also more modern harmonies. The album was recorded by the great English engineer John Taylor in February of 2018.
Incidentally, all the scores from the CD are available to download for free as a PDF called Pieces of Mind (The Scores) from his website.
“Raindrop” Prelude, Op. 28 No. 15 (Chopin); Il bianco e dolce cigno (Arcadelt); Hänschen klein (traditional); Schlaf, Kindlein schlaf (traditional); Variations on a Theme of Beethoven: Homage to Fernando Sor (Hayward); Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen (Isaac); Der Mond ist aufgegangen (J.A.P. Schultz); Tannhäuser Fantasy (Hayward); O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (J.S. Bach); Through Twilight Woods (Hayward); Londonderry Air/Danny Boy (traditional)
We don’t usually present multiple pieces here, but you really should hear Hayward’s wonderful Beethoven variations:
Solo Sor Petri Kumela
Does the world need another disc devoted to Fernando Sor? Sure, why not?! OK, the Naxos label alone has put out more than 60 discs containing pieces by Sor (including their wonderful ongoing series cataloguing his complete guitar works), and all of the heavy players have taken their turns diving into his works at one time or another. (2016’s Manuel Barrueco excellent Fernando Sor disc, heralding Sor as “The Beethoven of the Guitar”—a label accorded to Sor by his peers—is still fresh in my mind, for example.) But Sor is just so appealing and accessible, with such an incredible range of pieces in his quiver, who wouldn’t want to try their hand(s) at his oeuvre?
Finnish guitarist Petri Kumela does a superb job on this all-Sor outing, which mixes some of the most popular pieces (the Gran Solo, the Mozart Variations, the Fantasie Élégiaque, the Andante Largo, Op. 5, for example) with some relatively less-played numbers from his Estudios and the complete Seis Bagatelles. Kumela is certainly not the first modern player to play Sor on a period instrument, but this 1826 René Lacôte guitar, recorded with tremendous care by producer/engineer Simon Fox-Gál, really does sound magnificent here—warm but exquisitely clear, with assertive basses and the perfect amount of ambience to bring out the instrument’s golden and at times quite pianistic tones. In his album notes on the instrument, luthier Gabriele Lodi (who restored the guitar in 2014) writes, “This particular instrument was made at a very important point in Lacôte’s career, when he was applying the directions and suggestions of Fernando Sor to his construction. Lacôte was able to meet the demands of Sor with a guitar model that respected the construction and aesthetics of the traditional French style, but at the same time had a more flexible soundboard to evoke the Spanish guitar sound that Sor always loved so much.” In short, this instrument was made to play this music, and Kumela is definitely up to the challenge. It sounds like living history, and it’s a joy from beginning to end.
Introducion y variaciones sobre un tema de Mozart, Op. 9; Sonata No. 1 en re mayor [D major], Op. 14 “Gran Solo”; Seis Bagatelles, Op. 43 “Mes ennus”:Andante, Allegretto, Cantabile, Mazurka, Andante, Valse; De Doce Estudios, Op. 6: No. 6 en la mayor [A major], No. 11 en mi mayor [E major], No. 12 in [A major]; Andante Largo, Op. 5; Fantasia No. 13, Op. 59 “Fantaisie Élégiaque”; Estudio No. 23 en mi mayor [E major], Op. 31 “Mouvement de prière religeuse”; Estudio No. 17 en re mayor [D major], Op. 35