Album Releases: Candice Mowbray, Gantriis-Zimmerman Guitar Duo, and Louis Valentine Johnson
Candice Mowbray excels in a mostly French program
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.
If you have a CD you’d like to submit to us, here’s our address:
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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.
Reverie Candice Mowbray
What a revelation this album is! It’s definitely one of my favorites of the year (though it actually came out at the end of 2016; I only discovered it recently, and Mowbray has since released another CD, Garden Waltz: 19th-Century Parlor Gems for Guitar, which I have not heard). All but two of the album’s 18 pieces are by French composers: Dutchman Peter van der Staak is one outlier, though his piece is called “Bellefleur: Valse française”; the other is Alexandre Lagoya, of Greek-Italian heritage but famously the husband and guitar-duo partner of French legend Ida Presti, and wildly successful in France. But let’s not get too hung up on national identity because, for example, the opening Vals for Atom, by modern French composer Laurent Boutros, has apparent musical roots in Near-Eastern music (Turkish? Armenian?), and one might say the same for Erik Satie’s Gnossienne, No. 1, here in Roland Dyens’ arrangement. Mowbray neatly pairs that with her own arrangement of Satie’s much played Gymnopédie (a tad slow for my taste, but unarguably pretty).
The album’s program has an artful and intelligent flow. The aforementioned “Bellefleur” was dedicated by van der Staak to contemporary French guitarist/composer Arnaud Dumond, and is followed on the album by Dumond’s five disparate Hommages français, which includes appealing nods to composers Louis Couperin, Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, Claude Debussy, and Maurice Ravel (thus traversing many different styles and eras). Then we have Poulenc’s sadly beautiful Sarabande pour guitare, dedicated to (but never performed in public by) Ida Presti; followed by three from Presti herself, including the Baroque-sounding Étude du matin andthe lively and infectious Danse rythmique—the latter dedicated to her husband Lagoya, who is the composer of the next piece on the album, Reverie, which he wrote for Presti in 1959; a lovely piece.
Edith Piaf and Luis Guglielmi’s La vie en rose may be the most famous French song there is, but the gorgeous version here (arranged by Jean-Marie Raymond) still sounds fresh and sparkling. And the disc closes with pop singer Claude Nougaro’s frothy 1962 hit, Le jazz et la java, arranged by another fine modern French composer, Thierry Tisserand.
It’s quite a distance we’ve traveled from Couperin to Nougaro. The playing throughout by the Maryland-based guitarist is splendid. Highly recommended!
Vals for Atom (Boutros), Chanson Trilce (Boutros); Les Échelles du Levant (Boutros); Gnossienne No. 1 (Satie, arr. Dyens); Gymnopédie (Satie, arr. Mowbray); Bellefleur: Valse française (van der Staak); Cinq hommages français: Couperin, Poulenc, Milhaud, Debussy, Ravel (Dumond); Sarabande pour guitare (Poulenc); Étude du matin (Presti); Étude No. 2 (Presti); Danse rythmique (Presti); Réverie (Lagoya); La Vie en Rose (Piaf and Guglielmi, arr. Raymond); Le jazz et la java (Nougaro, arr. Tisserand)
Below, Mowbray plays Ida Presti’s Danse rythmique:
Pinpoints Gantriis-Zimmermann Guitar Duo
This is a fascinating and stimulating album from two top European guitarists: Kristian Gantriis from Denmark and Volkmar Zimmermann from Germany (both also play in the Denmark-based Corona Guitar Kvartet, alongside Per DybroSørensen and Michael Norman Sørensen). In fact it almost feels like three different albums, though it all hangs together remarkably well. The first and last tracks have a decidedly modern mien, with the kickoff number, Canadian composer Peter Wingfield’s Teyatá, being a wonderfully intricate slice of clearly Steve Reich-influenced layering of steadily rhythmic parts that develop subtly at first, overlap, join in unison moments, answer each other, and even provide opportunities for brief solos over the pulsing pattern; it’s so full of life! By contrast, the concluding Nocturnal Procession, by John Frandsen, is spare, a bit dark, and rhythmically irregular; a very serious note to end on.
Three quite melodious and delightful arrangements of traditional Danish songs dating back to the 19th century form another stylistic block on the album, and then the largest thematic chunk belongs to seven Latin “dance” pieces—four arranged by Pepe Ferer, three by Gantriis—all of them new to me, including a milonga, a couple of tangos, a vals, and more. The “finds” here are Piazzolla’s Decarísimo, which starts as a solo-guitar ballad and then moves into a tango duo; and then three piano works by Federico Mompou, delectably arranged for two guitars for the first time here. (In fact, the entire album consists of premiere recordings.)
Finally, I can’t resist quoting Michael Schelle’s liner notes description of Romance de Barrio (music by Anibal Troilo): “[It] will drag you out onto the dance floor and plant a blood-red rose between your thorn-torn lips.” Now that’s passion!
Teyatá (Wingfield); Fred hviler over Land og by (Niels la Cour; arr. Hedegaard; Den blå Anemone (Harder, arr. Hedegaard); Stille, Hjerte Sol går ned (Laub, arr. Hedegaard); El Portenito (Villoldo, arr. Ferrer); Naranjo en Flor (V. and H. Espósito, arr. Ferrer); Romance de Barrio (Troilo; arr. Ferrer); Decarísimo (Piazzolla, arr. Ferrer); Canción y Danza I and II (Mompou, arr. Gantriis); Cuna (Mompou, arr. Gantriis); Nocturnal Procession (Frandsen)
People respond to personal tragedy in a million different ways. For the prolific American guitarist and composer Louis Valentine Johnson, the death of his son Alexander at the age of 21 several years ago led to Johnson memorializing his beloved child in music: the three-movement, nearly 27-minute Peace Concerto that dominates this CD release (as well as the short Prelude, “Twenty-One Years,” that kicks off the disc). As Johnson writes in the poignant liner notes, “The Peace Concerto embraces memories as Alex grew from from a baby to a little boy to a young man who then had his own son. These compositions encompass as much as music can. the opus includes our love, his struggles, his life Valiantly Running With Fire, playing The Cape, The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends, Greensleeves, and Tárrega on guitar by the fireplace, plus much more.” And indeed it is multi-layered work that runs a gamut of emotions and musical textures. Johnson has an unerring feel for melody, and he manages to connect the different musical threads he creates quite naturally. The influence of Spanish and Latin American composers comes through in many places, but there are also American folk strains evident and even nods to the Baroque. The middle movement of the Peace Concerto, “Song of Peace,” is particularly affecting. Johnson’s tremendously detailed notes about the Concerto certainly add to emotional heft of the piece, but I think that even if you didn’t know what inspired the work, it would probably move you. It’s quite a journey.
The concluding Tres Pensamientos Latinos makes for a pleasing conclusion to the disc; all three “thoughts” are infused with rich Spanish/Latin flavors, from soulful balladry to an exciting improv on classic Spanish tropes.
Prelude: Twenty-One Years; The Peace Concerto: Portraits, Song of Peace, The Question; Tres Pensamientos Latinos: Snowfall in El Escorial, Lullaby of Love, Malagueña California!
The album can be previewed and purchased through CDBaby, and heard in its entirety, piecemeal, on YouTube.
Below, Johnson plays an excerpt from the third movement of his stirring Peace Concerto (not sure why the image doesn’t show up; the video IS here):
Previous CD listings:
October 4, 2016: Jacob Cordover, Oleg Timofeyev and John Schneiderman, Arkaïtz Chambonnet, Matthew Fish, Gidi Ifergan
October 18: Norbert Kraft and Jeffrey McFadden, Steve Cowan, Katrin Endrikat, Jason Vieaux and Julien Labro, Yenne Lee, Emanuele Segre
November 1: Virginia Luque and Bojidara Kouzmanova, Jon Gjylaci, Fabiano Borges, Alfonso Baschiera, Miscelanea Guitar Quartet, J.P. McShane
November 15: Antigoni Goni, Adam Levin, Radoŝ Malidžan, Black Cedar, Lou Marinoff, Antonio Malinconico
November 22: Marcelo de la Puebla, ChromaDuo, Carsten Pedersen, Thibaut Garcia, Yiannis Giagourtas
December 13: Zsófia Boros, Andrea Bissoli, Philippe Sly & John Charles Britton, Carlos Dorado, Steven Joseph
December 27: João Carlos Victor, Frank Wallace, Simon Thacker & Justyna Jablonska