Classical Guitar Album Reviews: Jan Depreter’s Bach Family Masterpiece; Duo Coincidencia’s Latin Gem; a Bestiary from Petri Kumela
BY BLAIR JACKSON / Editor, Classical Guitar
Here are three recently released classical guitar albums from Jan Depreter, Duo Coincidencia, and Petri Kumela that are very different but nonetheless excellent in their own ways. As always, we have included links to places where these albums can be streamed and/or purchased, but needless to say, you are not limited to the sites we’ve mentioned!
This remarkable album came out in the summer of 2020, but kind of got lost in the pandemic shuffle a bit, I fear—at least that was my experience. Anyway, it definitely deserves to be heard and appreciated by the greater classical guitar community! The Belgian Jan Depreter probably needs no introduction to most of you—he is, quite simply, one of the best living players, a formidable composer, and I trust him playing any style. His previous three releases show his range: albums dedicated to the guitar works of Turina and Villa-Lobos and another consisting of modern works written for Julian Bream (Britten’s Nocturnal, Walton’s Bagatelles, et al).
He previously covered Bach on his disc The Segovia Concert (the ever-popular Cello Suite No. 1, BWV 1007), but this new release represents a deep and soulful immersion into Bach—and Bach’s world. For though J.S. Bach is absolutely the dominant figure on this album, he is not the only composer represented here, and that is because of the original source of these pieces: A “notebook” put together over decades, beginning in 1725, by his second wife, Anna Magdalena, consisting of pieces by J.S., of course, but also sons Carl Philipp Emmanuel (C.P.E), Johann Christian, and Gottfried Heinrich; various friends; and even his French contemporary Francois Couperin. Truly a “family album,” it featured keyboard arrangements of a wide variety of pieces, from vocal music to larger instrumental works. As Depreter says in notes for the album, “While the selection of little musical gemstones is probably best known for its educational purposes in the keyboard world, in my view this music is so much more. It is an intensely personal and charming compendium of the favorite music played on a daily basis in the Bach household.”
In a separate email correspondence, Depreter filled out some of the history behind the famous “Notebook” for me:
“There were two ‘Notebooks’ compiled for/by Anna Magdalena Bach: The first, dated 1722, contained only works by J.S. Bach; and the second—bound in green leather, dated 1725—also contains works from family friends and Bach’s children. C.P.E. himself added the full name to the initials A.M.B. on the book. Musicologists agree that the charming little piece by Johann Christian was added in his own childlike handwriting around 1744/45—when he was barely ten years old. Most of the handwriting is Anna Magadelena’s, but Father Bach’s own stern but flawless calligraphy is also discernible throughout the volume. So, importantly, 1725 was the starting point, not the finish line. The volume grew with the family. All the works in my recording are featured in the original, now housed in the Staatsbobliothek zu Berlin. I regret leaving out some wonderful arrangements of, for example, C.P.E.’s Solo perll cembalo, for lack of available space on one disc, which is just a few seconds shy of 80 minutes!”
The pieces on the Depreter album—all his own transcriptions—are mostly short works, movements, and songs, and there is much variety: brisk and courtly dances, dramatic arias, more somber and meditative pieces. Each is a showcase for Depreter’s deft and disciplined fingerings. Effective Baroque solo guitar really hinges on the player’s ability to keep the melodic flow rhythmically consistent, manage the movement of the interweaving “bass” parts, and drop in the occasional ornamental filigree; Depreter is masterful on all fronts. There is never a hint of struggle or indecisiveness, which is a credit to both his skill as a player and as an arranger.
I am no Bach expert, by any means, and to my relatively uneducated “ear,” in a blind test I would probably be unable to tell the difference between which pieces are by J.S. Bach and which came from the pen of others, all of whom were no doubt influenced by his pioneering genius. And truth be told, a few of my favorites here are a wonderful set of four pieces by C.P.E. (two “Marches” and two “Polonaises”), a solemn piece by Gottfried Heinrich Stötzel called Bist du bei mir, and Couperin’s lilting Rondeau No. 6. Still, as an avowed lover of nearly every J.S. Bach sarabande I’ve heard, it is his beautifully sad and affecting arias sprinkled around this disc that move me the most on this CD. But it is all wonderful; don’t miss it!
You can access the full track list and composers here.
Duo Coincidencia is Cuban-Mexican guitarist Martha Eugenia Salado Mondeja and Mexican guitarist Dr. Carlos Muñiz Díaz—both new names to me (even though they have been playing together since 1998), but now names I will commit to memory, because they have delighted me by making a truly extraordinary album. The Mexico-based duo is quite well-known in Central and South America and has also performed in Europe and the U.S. This evocative album presents highly melodic and rhythmic works by several Mexican (Agustin Lara, Reuben Fuentes) and Cuban (Ernesto Lecuona, Eduardo Martin, Walfrido Dominguez) writers, along with one from Argentine composer Jorge Cardoso, and one from Spaniard Manuel de Falla.
The album is positively brimming with Latin and Spanish flavors from beginning to end, and includes ravishing and sumptuous ballads (La Bikina, Andalucia), tunes with shifting rhythms and tempos (Fantasia Chancletera), a deeply felt Milonga, and a sparkling reading of the old de Falla classic La Vida Breve. As you might expect from a duo that’s been together for more than two decades, the communication between the players is positively telepathic; natural and instinctual. They effortlessly trade-off lines and little accents throughout, sometimes answering each other, but also hitting unison and harmony moments, always in perfect time. And though the overall feeling of it is somewhat traditional, it also is an unmistakably contemporary album, with a few distinctly modern touches.
I’ve listened to this album a lot and in different situations—on headphones, my big living room speakers, in the car, as background music for dinner. . . and it always lures me in with its beauty, great playing, and its overall spirit. Highly recommended!
Fantasia Chancletera (E. Lecuona, E Martin, W. Dominguez); La Bikina ( R. Fuentes); Veracruz (A. Lara); Milonga (J. Cardoso); Medley Lara (A. Lara, R. Medrano); Andalucia (E. Lecuona, E. Martin, W. Dominguez); Siboney (E. Lecuona); Sones y Flores (E. Martin, W. Dominguez); La Vida Breve (M. de Falla)
OK, first thing you need to know about this is that it’s a very unusual album; not at all your typical “classical guitar” record. But Finnish guitarist Petri Kumela is someone I’ve admired in the past (I put his Solo Sor album on my 2018 Ten Favorites list), so I perked up when this “concept” album arrived in the mail. It didn’t take long to discover that this new venture could not be further from Fernando Sor!
What we have here is a collection of 35 miniatures, ranging from 17 seconds at the low end to 5 minutes and 25 seconds at the high end. Each is by a different composer you’ve probably never heard of (unless you are steeped in modern Finnish composers); I recognized just three names—Kumela, Poul Ruders, and Carlo Domeniconi. Each of the miniatures is a musical evocation of a different creatures of the land, water, and air, but this isn’t some broad and obvious Disneyesque interpretation of galumphing elephants or skittering squirrels. No, this is crazy-deep and strange. You’ve never heard more scraping, banging, plucking, sweeping, and pawing of strings; more dissonant leaps between notes; more barely audible string “breaths”; more head-spinning non sequiturs. There’s playing below the bridge and above the nut, string damping, slide effects; you name it. This has to be one of the most radical solo nylon-string guitar albums ever! It’s not exactly designed for casual listening, to say the least, but it’s also very cool on a lot of levels—it can be ominous or funny, quizzical or dark, simple or very complex. The playing is always engaging and at times astonishing.
One of the best things about the CD package is the wonderful accompanying booklet which features amazing graphic representations by Erka Kallasmaa of each of the creatures, as well as Kumela’s often humorous descriptions. I give him major points for even taking on such a huge and bizarre project and really pulling it off better than I could have ever imagined. This is the only album released this century that includes musical portraits of a sea hedgehog, a Baltic herring, a mongoose, a praying mantis, and a goat moth caterpillar! Surely that’s worth something.
(I don’t think The Internet has enough space for all the titles and composer names! Or, the truth, I’m too lazy to type them out and couldn’t find a list to cut-and-paste…But you can find that info and listen to the album on Spotify. )