When I interviewed Emma Rush at the beginning of 2018 about her excellent Canadiana album, she revealed that she was hoping to go to Germany in 2019 to pursue an album project on unheralded women composers and arrangers of the Romantic era. This new album is the fruit of her labors in that area, and it’s a wonderful achievement on every level. Actually “unheralded” could describe almost any female composer of the 19th century: Rare indeed was the household that encouraged such activity from its girls and/or women—it was regarded as a man’s profession—and society at large was skeptical and largely dismissive of women who pursued that creative avenue. So don’t be concerned if you haven’t heard of most (or any) of the composers on this album. The only names familiar to me were Emilia Giuliani-Guglielmi, who was the daughter of guitar pioneer Mauro Giuliani, and Madame Sidney Pratten—works by both were featured on a fine 2017 album by James Akers called Le Donne e la Chitarra (and Pratten was covered extensively in Brian Whithouse’s book on Dr. Walter Leckie and Francisco Tárrega, which I read). Arrangements by Giuliani-Guglielmi of opera themes by Rossini and Giuseppe Saverio Raffaele Mercadante serve as bookends for the collection, while Catharina Pratten is represented by a pair of appealing “Fairy Sketches” and piece called “Kelpie’s Dance,” which sounds a bit like the children’s folk song “Teddy Bear’s Picnic.”
British composer Susan Donnett has Two Original Polkas (both delightful); Julie Fondard, a Parisian who was a student of Fernando Sor at some point, brings us a pair of elegant Swiss waltzes; and Spaniard Madame Delores de Goñi contributes six more short waltzes, each a little gem and nicely differentiated from one another. In between the two sets of waltzes is a stately and beautiful work derived from a French song about King Henry IV by the little-known French professor of guitar and arranger Julia Piston.
Rush is certainly a virtuosic player, but not a “showy” one. She confidently negotiates every mood, tempo, and ornament, always serving the music first and foremost and thus shining the best light possible on these women. Throughout, she plays a replica of a 19th century Stauffer guitar crafted by Milodrag Zerdoner—perfect for this repertoire. Highly recommended!
Variazoni sopra un tema del Mo. Mercadante (Emilia Giuliani-Guglielmi); Andante and Allegretto (Angiolina Panormo Huerta); Fairy Sketches: Queen Mab, Puck No. 2 (Catharina Pratten); Kelpie’s Dance (Pratten); Two Original Polkas (Susan Domett); Deux Valses Suisses (Julie Fondard); Air Varié de Vive Henry IX (Julia Piston); Six Waltzes ((Madame Delores de Goñi); Variazioni sopra il tema “Non più mesta accanto al foco”(Giuliani-Guglielmi)
American guitarist Andy Jurik is a proud eclectic, embracing classical, pop, folk, and jazz traditions, and this album is quite a showcase for his incredibly diverse interests. Before I had even heard a note of this superb outing, I was drawn in by the lineup of composers, which includes Ernesto Nazareth (one of my favorites), Francis Poulenc, the eerie art-rock band Radiohead, The Beatles, and Leonard Bernstein, among others.
Let’s start with the less-known “others”: Mark Summer’s compelling Julie-O has some of the DNA of steel-string masters such as John Fahey, Leo Kottke, and Windham Hill’s Will Ackerman, but still feels original, and it’s nice to hear those types of ideas played on a nylon-string for a change. Nicholas Walker’s expansive Chorale, as the name implies, does have a certain vocal quality to it, and some clear echoes of hymns of earlier times—I always think Bach, but it is probably not that specific an allusion. And it is also a lot more than simple melodic lines and progressions. As it develops, there are a few little detours off the road with imaginative filigrees and momentary tempo changes; not jarring at all, because they work. An intriguing piece, for sure. And percussionist Ivan Trevino’s album-ending Strive to Be Happy is another unique work: Originally written as a piece for solo marimba (you can check that out here and compare), it starts and ends with a propulsive rhythmic figure that has a slight Phillip Glass/Steve Reich vibe—more hyponotic on the marimba than the guitar, where it takes on a folkier quality—and then the middle has a variegated, almost improvisational quality to it that I find very appealing.
The album is blessed with three pieces by the Brazilian Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934), whose piano works—which combined his interest in Brazilian folk melodies and rhythms with his love of Chopin and other classical composers—have proven to be nicely transferable to guitar. Odeon, which appears here in fine form, is probably Nazareth’s best-known “guitar” piece (having been covered by Berta Rojas, Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Marc Teicholz, and others). It appears in sequence on this album with the equally satisfying Eponina and Brejeiro (coincidentally, the two pieces that open Teicholz’s wondrous 2017 album, Celestial: The Music of Ernesto Nazareth). The Radiohead piece, Exit Music (For a Film), first appeared under the credits for movie director Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet, and also appeared on the English rock band’s 1997 breakthough album, OK Computer. The moody Radiohead version starts out as a solo acoustic guitar tune before singer Thom Yorke enters with some of his typically angst-y vocals, and then bass and drums and various electronic layers enter the fray. So, Jurik’s solo guitar version marks a serious departure, but in my view a very successful and evocative one. The other piece I want to single out is Paul McCartney/The Beatles’ Blackbird, a favorite of fingerstyle guitarists the world over since the spare original came out on “The White Album” back in 1968. I was, frankly, expecting another pleasant copy of the tune (nothing wrong with that; it’s gorgeous), but what Jurik delivers is considerably more. Instead, he uses the familiar bones of the piece (so to speak) as jumping-off points for some really imaginative extrapolations that genuinely take the song to some new places. Bravo!
Julie-O (Marc Summer); Improvisation No. 15 (Hommage à Edith Piaf) (Francis Poulenc); Odeon (Ernesto Nazareth); Eponina (Nazareth)); Brejeiro (Nazareth); Lucky to Be Me (Leonard Bernstein); Chorale (Nicholas Walker) Exit Music(For a Film) by Radiohead; Blackbird (Lennon/McCartney); Strive to Be Happy (Ivan Trevino)