Album Review: Thomas Schmitt Plays Spanish Music from the 18th Century

REVIEW BY TIM PANTING

Juegos Filharmónicos: Spanish Music from the 18th century
Thomas Schmitt  (six-course guitar)
(Lindoro)

“Juegos Filharmónicas” could loosely translate from the Spanish as “Musical Games.” Well, the musical offering here by Thomas Schmitt—a guitarist and academic/musicologist; having studied under none other than Konrad Ragossnig for his honors degree at the Vienna Conservatory and then a PhD in musicology from the University of Mainz—could also be described as the ultimate guide to musical parlor games from the salons of the rich and influential elite of the day.

The detailed booklet paints a picture where this music—pretty much unknown today—circulated via limited publications, of which the purchasers could only possibly be the educated (those who could read and write) and wealthy, able to afford such luxuries as music. The notes explain that one publication could equal the cost of 25 days supply of bread, for instance. Not to say that those that could not read were not cultured; far from it. The great oral traditions flourished in that era, as they have up to the 21st century.

Interest in uncovering and “rescuing” from obscurity guitar repertoire from the 19th century has been gathering momentum since the earlier pioneering efforts of Matanya Ophee. The domination of the acknowledged greats of late 18th and early 19th century composers, such as  Sor, to cite the most obvious example, has perhaps left a gap for adventurous and determined souls like Thomas Schmitt to reveal a world, although limited to the higher echelons of the military, aristocracy, etc., that is now of interest to us all.

I found the music had the ubiquitous charm of the salon, as would be expected. And one can also see why, through no real fault of the composers of the music, that perhaps Andrés Segovia overlooked this music in favor of more illustrious contemporaries.

The music, played on a six-course guitar utilizing Aquila Nylgut strings, sounds as intimate as you might expect. The sixth string, in this period, added more bass possibilities, with occasional octave tunings in the courses, to add sonorous diversity and variety. Schmitt gets the most out of the music with a wide range of beautifully played dynamics and subtleties, given the limitations of the guitar.

This is an impeccable recording of great academic importance, yet it should appeal to guitar aficionados interested in the myriad scenarios in which the guitar has found itself over the centuries.

Sonata de guitarra del sénor Laporta (Isidro de Laporta); Variaciones para guitarra de seis órdenes por D. Manuel Ferau (Manuel Ferau); Sonata 7 en Re; Sonata 8 en si; Sonata 9 en Re, de: Explicación para tocar la guitarra, Veracruz, 1776 (Juan Antonio de Vargas y Guzman); Otras variaciones de Laporta sobre em mismo intento (de Laporta); Sonata de guitarra de 6 órdenes por D. Antonio Abreu (Antonio Abreu);  Minué, Ayre de Andantino, de: op.2, Minué, Contradanza y Rondó. (José Avallana); Vals, de: Juego filharmónico para componer Valses (Antonio Nava)

The album can be streamed and purchased through Amazon, iTunes/Apple Music, and the Spanish Lindoro label, and streamed on Spotify and Tidal.