Recent Albums from Thanos Mitsalas, Duo Silb, and Composer Randy Hathaway
Roger Eon and Kristina Kuusisto of Duo Silb
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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Tribute Thanos Mitsalas
Two different albums by Greek guitarist Thanos Mitsalas have crossed my desk this year (the other was Sérgio Assad: Chamber Works for Guitar and Strings), and both showcase a formidable guitarist with excellent taste in 20th and 21st century repertoire. A mellifluous and meticulous player, Mitsalas excels here on a pair of pieces by Rodrigo (including his exciting, highly nationalistic late work Un tiempo fue italica famosa, written in 1980 and dedicated to Angel Romero); two movements of Piazzolla’s suddenly ubiquitous Estaciones Porteñas (extra points for choosing the gorgeous, less-played Invierno Porteño!); “Variations” on Scriabin and the traditional Folia de España by Tansman and Llobet, respectively; Simone Iannerelli’s Tribute to Keith Jarrett, which somehow manages to sound like one the American jazz pianist’s improvisations; and, perhaps not surprisingly, a recent work from Sérgio Assad, the brilliant three-movement Sandy’s Portrait (2013), with its transcendently gorgeous “Prelude,” Bach-inspired “Passacaglia,” and closing “Toccata” which, Assad writes in the album notes, “is a free concept of the toccata form, with a slow middle section inserted, rather unusually, into the very energetic and fast outer sections.” Wonderful!
The album closes with what is labelled as an “Encore piece” (which begs the question: why?): a poignant version of Andrew York’s popular By Candlelight; a nice choice to top off a consistetly outstanding program.
Tiento Antiguo (Rodrigo); Variations on the Theme of ‘Folia de España’ (Llobet); Variations on a theme of Scriabin (Tansman); Un tiempo fue italica famosa (Rodrigo); Primavera Porteña (Piazzolla); Invierno Porteño (Piazzolla); Tribute to Keith Jarrett (Iannerelli); Sandy’s Portrait (S. Assad); By Candlelight (York)
The only previous album I’ve heard by a guitar-bandoneón (or accordion) duo, was last year’s fine collaboration between Jason Vieux and Julien Labro, Infusion, which featured fascinating treatments of compositions by Piazzolla, Brouwer, Gnattali, Pat Metheny, and the rock band Tears for Fears. All the pieces on this marvelous album by Duo Silb—French guitarist Roger Eon an Finnish bandoneónista Kristina Kuusisto—were written by the two musicians, and the works cover quite a broad spectrum of moods, tempos and emotions. It’s a great combination of instruments: The guitar with its crisp, clear and precise sound, and the bandoneón, which is so often the source of chords and droning sustain (as well as sweeping and swirling melody). Most classical guitar fans rightly associate the bandoneón with Ástor Piazzolla, and certainly you can hear his influence in many places on this album (most explicitly on Astorita). But I also sense the presence of another influence (and one of my favorite styles): Paris musette tunes from he first half of the 20th century; dance/café music that was usually quite accordion-heavy. And Eon is French, after all. Celtic Fly obviously has some Irish music in it, and I wonder if we’re also hearing strains of Finnish folk music (not a genre I know at all!) in a couple of places; it wouldn’t surprise me at all, given the eclectic nature of the project.
One of the things I really like about this album is it’s impossible to predict where any given track is going. One tune might start slow and almost mournful but then shift tempo and become a lively, upbeat tune, or vice-versa, or move in some completely different direction tonally. No piece is just one style throughout; all are multilayered and filled with numerous ideas. Melody lines are traded back and forth between the two instruments—both are excellent lead players—and there are passages where they play in unison or tight harmony, others where they almost sound like they’re chasing each other! It’s a rich stew, full of intrigue and surprises, and definitely worth investigating!
Kuu, la lune; Astorita; Danse d’anges; Le bal des lucioles; Ah, les beaux jours; Danse jubilatoire; Vaka Vanha Väinämöinen; Ouverture; Celtic Fly, Mémoires
Classical Guitar in America Compositions by Randy Hathaway
I have to admit, initially I found the title of this two-CD set a bit grandiose and pretentious. And though Seattle, Washington, composer Randy Hathaway (who only plays guitar of the first of the 15 compositions included), clearly draws from the deep wellspring of American music styles, he also dips into Latin, Spanish and other music forms, as well. But title aside, this ambitious collection is impressively broad and faultlessly played (and in a few cases, sung) by an enormous group of obviously seasoned pros. Hathaway enlisted 12 other guitarists—Monty Robinson, Jessica Papkoff, Graham Benfield, Jason Williams, Robert Vierschilling, Eric Branner, Mark Wilson, Michael Nicolella (the one player I have heard previously), Satchel Henneman, Jeff Bowen, Sean Owen, and James Durkee—plus flautist Torrey Kaminski (lovely in a duet with Jason Williams on Engage); violist Giulia Pozzi (moving on the multi-part duet with Graham Benfield, Exodus, especially on the beautiful movement called “On the Horizon”); and singers Deeji Killian, Whitney Lyman, and Bob Tangney.
Interspersed cross the two discs, there are evocative solo guitar pieces about each of the seasons (providing a few modern, dissonant moments here and there amidst what is an overwhelmingly melodic affair); there is an enjoyable flamenco-inspired guitar quartet piece (Gypsy de Malaga); an interesting, somewhat unusual guitar trio, Concord, much of which has the three guitars playing melodies one note or short phrase at a time, one player to the next, with less simultaneous playing by the three; cool on headphones!), and then the five vocal pieces, which were a mixed bag for me. The first two and the last appealed to me—”Garden” and “Song of the Ballerina” have a bit of that 19th century Romantic lieder feel to them, and the playful Le Beau Tango is sung in French, which is always charming (to me). But the three-part Psalms, well-sung though it is, is lyrically and musically so heavy in the religious/praise direction that it lost me. And “A Song of Songs” is quite interesting musically, but sounds at times like the music is being forced around the poetry of the words, rather than being a true union of the two. Still, these are minor complaints about what is, on the whole, a well-achieved panorama of textures and feelings.
American Sonata; Garden; Le Beau Tango; Autumn; Engage; Spring Overture; Psalms; Gypsy de Malaga; Exodus; Winter’s Arrival; Concord; Diurnal Summer; a Song of Songs; Song of the Ballerina; Farewell