Album Releases from Thomas Athanaselos, Michel Grizard, and Music of Kai Nieminen
Thomas Athanaselos plays Piazzolla, standards, and original pieces
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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In Memoriam Thomas Athanaselos
There are four key names here: The Greek guitarist Thomas Athanaselos, who besides playing splendidly throughout this album, also wrote three attractive and engrossing works of his own, did all the engineering himself, and added some interesting synth textures to a few of the pieces. Second on the list is Ástor Piazzolla, whose complete, four-part Estaciones Porteñas takes up the first third of the album and is rendered with the requisite rhythmic flair and deep emotional colors; plus, in the middle of the disc, we find Piazzolla’s sad and beautiful Milonga del Angel. The third name is Sérgio Assad, who wrote the brilliant guitar arrangement of Estaciones Porteñas and is also represented by his transcendently gorgeous Farewell (from the Summer Garden Suite). And the fourth is Roland Dyens, for his arrangements of two standards from the Great American Songbook, All of Me and All the Things You Are, and his much-played take on Jobim’s Felicidade. What a fantastic selection!
Though there is clearly an emphasis on ear-caressing melodies on the album, these pieces still demand much from the guitarist, and Athanaselos does an outstanding job putting across the many different moods. I’d also like to single out two of his originals (for which he has created videos I’d recommend checking out): the alternately stirring and moving title track, In Memoriam, and the powerful ballad Aurora, which builds to a nice peak, on the wings of guitar and tasteful synths. This is a guitarist to watch for!
Estaciones Porteñas (Piazzolla, arr. S. Assad); All of Me (Marks, Simons, arr. Dyens); Felicidade (Jobim, arr. Dyens); Milonga del Angel (Piazzolla, arr. Benitez); All the Things You Are (Kern, Hammerstein, arr. Dyens); Farewell (S. Assad); Aurora (Athanaselos); In Memoriam (Athanaselos); Atonement (Athanaselos)
Lachrimae (Dowland); Forlone Hope Fancy (Dowland); Suite No. 25 (Weiss); Suite Française BWV 812 (J.S. Bach); Six by Rameau: Les Tendres Plantes, L’Entretien de Muses, Le Rappel des Oiseaux, Les Tricotets, L’Indifférente, Les Sauvages
Through sheer coincidence, I’ve listened to a lot of music by Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764) recently. A few weeks back I was absorbed in the excellent all-Rameau album by Canadian guitarist Sylvie Proulx. Now comes this album by French guitarist Michel Grizard, which is named after one of Rameau’s Pièces pour clavin, but actually has a broader scope, as it breezes through 200 years of history, from lute pieces by John Dowland (1563–1626) and Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687–1750) to harpsichord works by J.S. Bach (1685–1750) and Rameau. The Grizard biography in the accompanying booklet notes that he is somewhat of a specialist in early 19th century music (using period guitars) and also plays much contemporary music in various configurations, but he certainly seems at home with this earlier repertoire. In fact, Mssr Grizard did all of his own transcriptions for the album (and his work on three of the Rameau is also available as sheet music from Editions L’empreinte melodique).
It’s a nice variety of pieces: After a pretty but dolorous pair by Dowland, things perk up considerably with a suite from Weiss, and then the Bach has the usual contrasting movements filled with graceful melodies, interesting counterpoint and shifting moods. I like the Rameau best of all, perhaps because they feel somewhat less restricted by form than the Bach or Weiss suites, and the translation of the harpsichord ornamentation seems most successful. But it’s a nice achievement all the way around.
Rites & Shades: Guitarworks by Kai Nieminen Marta Dolzadelli, Marko Rutanen, Marco Ramelli, Patrik Kleemoia (guitarists)
I frankly find myself at a loss trying to describe the four pieces on this CD of works by contemporary Finnish composer Kai Niemenin, each played by a different guitarist (two Italian and two Finnish). The word “modern” in the context of reviews of classical guitar seems to be a loaded term that usually implies melodic and/or rhythmic dissonance and unpredictability, which would be a negative attribute for listeners who like their music a little more conventional, but would be a selling point for those with more adventurous tastes. So, by those standards, this is unquestionably “modern” music. Occasionally there is what feels like a random, improvised quality to the way pieces progress (yes, I know it’s by design, so it’s not random), where key is tossed out the window, there are abrupt leaps between high and low notes, harmonic pings are folllowed by notes that are more flicked than plucked, and seemingly no motif is allowed to survive more than a few seconds, lest your ear becomes accustomed to some sudden sonority. All of this music is vaguely discomfiting (or extremely discomfiting); there is an underlying tension throughout, whether it’s a minimalist passage with lots of air between notes or busier and more actively dissonant threads.
As a listener with admittedly somewhat conservative tastes, I initially gravitated to “Northern Spells” (you can watch it below) and the third movement of Guitar Sonata: A Walk to Mysterious Woods, the spare and icily pretty ‘Song(s) from the Arctic.’ As is always the case with modern works, though, I found I liked it much more the second time through than on first listen (which left me completely confused). There is definitely a vein of evocative mystery running through this. And as I said, if your taste runs towards more progressive or even avant-garde styles, you might find this to your liking. Give it a try!
Omaggio a Bruno Munari; Northern Spells; SHADES Sontata-Fantasia; Around Stonehenge Ruins; Guitar Sonata: A Walk to the Mysterious Woods