Album releases: Apostolos Paraskevas, Nicolas Guay, and the Niehusmann Gitarren Duo
Volker and Judith Niehusmann
Many 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!
To see our previous listings, scroll to the bottom of the page.
This album marks the triumphant return to recording of the highly accomplished Greek guitarist and composer Apostolos Paraskevas, whose playing career was abruptly curtailed nine years ago with the onset of crippling focal dystonia in his right hand. It took him more than four years and 7,000 hours of work to fully recover his skills, so it’s wonderful to be able to report that he sounds fantastic on this appropriately titled “comeback” album, which mixes three popular cornerstones of the classical guitar repertoire (by Albéniz, Barrios, and Lauro; all nicely played, if not quite revelatory) with four Paraskevas works, two of them multi-movement pieces.
With the exception of the first movement of Mountains of Stowe—which manages to feel like a combination of Baroque and American steel-string-folk styles—I find much of Paraskevas’ writing here to be somewhat dark and forbidding. It’s not just the at times jarring mix of time signatures, dissonant bursts, and unusual harmonies. It’s the ominous pervasive feeling of unease it transmits (to me, anyway), most clearly exemplified in the section “A Visit to the Playground” from Scenes from the Life of Death, which plays off a children’s nursery rhyme to sinister effect. Barrios’ radiant Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios comes as a welcome relief after Life of Death, just as Asturias is a psychic life raft after Paraskevas’ disturbing Escape. So, the sequencing is intelligent and effective, the writing adventurous and modern, and he plays a really nice-sounding 1957 Hauser throughout. Overall, though, much of this is just not to my personal taste. Still, it’s worth checking out, for sure.
(Incidentally, Paraskevas’ inspiring article called “A Classical Guitarist’s Story of Recovery from Focal Dystonia” was published in the August and September 2013 issues of Classical Guitar. It was very helpful when we were planning our Special Focus section on “Injury and Recovery” in the Spring 2017 issue.)
Mountains of Stowe: I Stand Strong, And the Sky is the Limit (Paraskevas); Julia Florida (Barrios); Escape (Paraskevas); Asturias (Albéniz); Scenes from the Life of Death: Awakening of Mournful Feelings…, A Visit to the Playground, Sad and Ungrateful Feelings… (Paraskevas); Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios (Barrios); Dream Not of Today (Paraskevas); Valse Criollo (Lauro)
This generally delightful outing from French guitarist/composer Nicolas Guay consists entirely of his own works, highlighted by two strong sonatas I can easily imagine other guitarists might want to try: Sonata Companas de la Esperanza, which has a rich Spanish vibe, complete with tremolo in the second movement (“Plainte”) and lots of strumming in the third (“Final”); and Sonata No. 2: Hommage à Paco de Lucía, which, as you might expect, shows the influence of that flamenco great (though the strongest movement is the one that is least overtly Paco-esque, the lilting and lyrical “Choral”).
Elsewhere, we find six different preludes in different keys, all satisfying and painted with different tonal colors (one is an homage to Roland Dyens; watch below); a driving, modern take on the Tarentelle; and the aptly titled fluff that kicks off the album, Pop Fantasy, dedicated to the talented, veteran L.A. session guitarist (and founder of the annoying rock band band Toto) Steve Lukather. Not sure I hear that connection, though I can’t say I’m up on every aspect of Lukather’s oeuvre.
Pop Fantasy (Dedicated to Steve Lukather); Prelude en fa dièse mineur [F# minor]; Prélude en sol mineur [G minor] (Hommage à Roland Dyens); Sonata Campanas de La Esperanza: Thema, Plainte, Final; Prélude en sol diese mineur [G# minor]; Prélude en la mineur [A minor]; Tarentelle; Prélude en mi mineur [E minor]; Prélude en ré mineur; Sonata No. 2: Hommage à Paco de Lucía
Guay’s album can be purchased and streamed through Amazon France, and UK (as well as other European Amazon sites, but not the U.S. yet), and streamed on YouTube and Spotify
Paintings Niehusmann Guitarren Duo
The cover painting, as you can probably tell, is by Gauguin, who serves as the inspiration for the engaging four-part suite, Noa-Noa, which closes this 41-minute recital by the German husband-wife guitar duo of Judith and Volker Niehusmann; all the compositions are Volker’s. There are three suites here: That Gauguin-inspired outing (which, in case you’re wondering, does not sound overtly Polynesian, though there is a bright warmth to parts of it that evoke Gauguin’s vivid palette, perhaps); the appealing Tableaux français, full of soaring melodies, a simple “Adagio,” some Baroque-ish counterpoint, and a more contemporary-sounding close; and Songs of Calypso, also with contrasting movements of “calm” (“ruhig“; I did the Google translation from German so you don’t have to!), “not urgent” (“Nicht eilig“; it has some slight but welcome dissonance in it), and “moderato,” which has a few slightly Baroque moments, with its gracefully ascending lines of counterpoint.
It took me a couple of listens to really get into this album—it almost sounded too pretty (if there is such a thing) on first listen—but I’ve come to like it quite a lot, and it makes me want to hear more from this duo. (Here’s a link to an English translation of some of the album notes on the German Naxos site.)
Tableaux Francais, Songs of Calypso: Ruhig, Nicht eilig, Moderato; Suite No. 3 “Noa Noa”: Arearea Ta Matete, Matamoe, Mahana no atua