Here are three albums by guitarists from three countries placing guitar in different chamber and/or orchestral settings to marvelous effect. I highly recommend all three!
Italian Guitar Concertos Emanuele Segre (with Orchestra I Pomeriggi Musicali) (Delos)
Emanuele Segre is perhaps not as well-known here in the U.S. as many other top European guitarists, but through exposure to a few of his albums in recent years (Bach;Giuliani, Rossini, Paganini; and this new one), I’ve come to appreciate him as one of the finest players out there. This thoroughly wonderful recording finds Segre performing concertos by four of his Italian countrymen—two from the distant past, and two contemporary ones—fronting Italy’s Orchestra I Pomeriggi, conducted by Carlo Boccadoro. It’s an ezceptional release from top to bottom.
It starts with Aria for Guitar and String Orchestra in F-sharp minor by Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741), originally written as a vocal piece for a cantata but arranged by Segre with the guitar playing the contralto’s part to masterful effect against an orchestration that is both spare and playful. Vivaldi’s three-part Concerto in D major was written for lute and string orchestra and is a delightful Baroque showpiece, with a gorgeous middle Largo movement that’s as pretty as it can be. Next, we move forward in time to the Classical era for the Gran Quintetto, Op. 65 by Mauro Giuliani (1781–1821), a stately and elegant work that really gives Segre the opportunity to demonstrate his rhythmic facility and keen melodic sense.
The final two pieces bring us solidly into the modern era, and perhaps what’s most surprising is that it is not that jarring a contrast with the earlier works. The Black Owl, by Giovanni Solima (b. 1962) immediately changes the mood of the disc, opening with the eerie drone of high strings, followed by a flowing, folky guitar part that sounds like a burbling woodland stream and eventually is joined by contrasting high strings which build to a climax before the rhythm changes and it enters into a passage that sounds almost Middle Eastern. It goes through other twists and turns, including a slower meditative segment that carries through to the end. Dulcis Memoria II by Carlos Boccadoro (b. 1963) is perhaps the most “modern”-sounding piece on the album, yet it, like all the other pieces, is melodic at its heart and uses the contrast between the guitar’s solo voice and the contribution of the orchestra to mesmerizing effect. Originally composed for clarinet and string orchestra, it was re-written in the mid-1990s for guitar and orchestra and it’s quite a dynamic piece.
Aria for Guitar and String Orchestra, RV684 (Antonio Vivaldi); Concerto in D Major, RV83 (Vivaldi); Gran Quintetto, Op. 65 ( Mario Giuliani); The Black Owl (Giovanni Solima); Dulcis Memoria II (Carlo Boccadoro)
New Music for Guitar Duets & Ensemble Carlos Pavan/Park Slope Chamber Players (Centaur)
Argentinian guitarist, teacher, and composer Carlos Pavan has been living in New York for two decades now, but his native land obviously still exerts considerable influence on his soul and, by extension, his artistry. With influences ranging from Piazzolla, Ginastera, and Jorge Morel (with whom he studied), to early 20th century masters such as Debussy, Bartok, and Stravinsky, to contemporary jazz, Pavan’s compositions cover a broad range of styles and moods, yet there is something that feels fundamentally traditional about his approach and his aesthetic, even when he delves into more modern sonorities.
There’s a delightful variety to the pieces on this album, with the small chamber group Pavan directs and plays in—the Park Slope Chamber Players (named for a neighborhood in Brooklyn)—appearing in different combinations on most of the pieces, all of them written by Pavan. So, for instance, there are a couple featuring flute and guitar; another two for clarinet and guitar; and a rich, three-part centerpiece (Concertino) for the entire seven-member ensemble (flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, guitar)—that one is particularly interesting, with lots bold flourishes and an underlying tension that sounds positively cinematic in places: Is that a cat screeching in a dark alley? Who knows? It’s a vivid and imaginative piece. Additionally, there are three fine solo guitar pieces, and the album closes with fantastic work called Suite Cosmopolitan, which finds Pavan playing in a guitar duo with Liz Hogg. You can actually get some sense of the stylistic terrain Pavan and his mates cover just by reading the titles of the pieces below.
Pavan is definitely a highly talented composer—and a fine guitarist, of course.
Preludio: Danza y Fuga on a theme by Bach (flute/guitar); Milonga y Misterio (guitar); Two pieces for clarinet/guitar Duo: I. Rhapsody, II Fantasia; Carnavalito (guitar); Concertina for guitar and chamber ensemble: I. Danza Rustica, II. Danza Ritual, III. New Tango/Milonga; Danza Prima (guitar); Impromptus (flute/guitar): I. Tango-ish, II. Folk-ish; Suite Cosmopolitan (guitar duo): I. Milonga, II. Interlude, III. Fughetta
Hans Haug and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Chamber Works Marisa Minder (guitar), Basel Philharmonic Quintet, Il Piccola Orchestra (Naxos)
I confess that I had not heard of either Swiss guitarist Marisa Minder nor Swiss composer Hans Haug (1900-1967) before this exciting and appealing album came my way a few months ago. What a find—on both fronts! Haug wrote his Concertino in 1950 and even won first prize with it at that year’s Accademia Musicale Chigiana composition competition in Siena, Italy. Part of the “prize” for that victory was supposed to be a performance of the piece by Segovia in 1952, but for reasons unknown, the Maestro chose not to play it, and indeed it was not even formally published until 1970 (three years after Haug’s death). Its first performance was by Alexandre Lagoya and the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra. Now that I’ve listened to it half a dozen times, I’m frankly shocked that it has not been performed or recorded more, because we always need more great chamber pieces in the classical guitar repertoire, and this one is, to my ears, exceptional!
It is with considerable pause and trepidation that I even mention this, but I have to say that in terms of the overall character of the piece, the Concertino reminds me somewhat of the beloved Concierto de Aranjuez. It is not remotely as Spanish-sounding, of course, but there is something about the interplay of the prominent woodwinds and the guitar, and the mix of playfulness and introspection, not to mention the occasional bursts of lush romanticism, that give it some of the Aranjuez vibe, at least. The orchestra sounds terrific; kudos to the players and conductor Alexander Zemtsov. The guitar part is intricate and stylistically variegated throughout, and a pair of marvelously played cadenzas—each a generous two minutes in length—show what a fluid, dynamic, and expressive player Minder is. (It’s probably no accident that the iconic three-note motif from the second movement of the Aranjuez turns up near the end of the the big cadenza in the first movement of the Concertino.) But I don’t want to oversell the Aranjuez comparison, because this piece unquestionably has its own beauty, drama, character, and feeling. Give it a spin on Spotify and check it out!
Minder does not appear on Haug’s Wind Quintet, which progresses through several different moods and textures over the course of just five-and-a-half minutes; a nice work. The remaining piece is probably familiar to many or most of you: Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s wonderful four-movement Quintet for Guitar and String Quartet, Op. 143, which has been recorded by everyone from Segovia to Xuefei Yang to Sharon Isbin to Emanuele Segre, to name just a few. Minder and the quartet are certainly up to the challenges of the piece—from the breathless, galloping opening, through the soaring melodic passages and moody lyricism of the third movement, to the skittering, off-kilter punctuations and sweeping orchestrations of the “Finale.”
All in all, there is much magic to be found in this collection of three fine works.
Concertino per chitarra e piccola orchestra: I. Moderato quasi improvvisando, II. Andante, III. Allegro moderato (Hans Haug); Wind Quintet (Hans Haug, completed by Hanna Horobetz); Quintet for Guitar and String Quartet, Op. 143: I. Allegro vivo e schietto, II. Andante mesto, III. Scherzo: Allegro con spirito alla marcia, IV. Finale: Allegro con fuoco (Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco)