Recent Album Releases: Celil Refik Kaya, Duo Tandem, and Aloysius Leeson
Celil Refik Kaya finds magic in the works of Domeniconi
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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Guitar Music of Carlo Domeniconi Celil Refik Kaya
Composer Carlo Domeniconi (b. 1947) is Italian but he has spent much time in Turkey in his life and been inspired by that country’s music and culture; indeed, his best-known work, the four-part Kuyunbaba Suite (1985), is deeply infused with the musical character of the Anatolian peninsula. I think it’s fair to say that it has become one of the most popular modern works for solo guitar, and deservedly so. It’s probably going too far to say that that the gifted young Turkish guitarist (and composer) Celil Refik Kaya, was “born to play” Kuyunbaba, but it’s certainly the case that growing up in Istanbul likely exposed Kaya to the sorts of Turkish folk influences that are in play in the Domeniconi piece; more so than if he had been raised in the UK. At any rate, he does a truly splendid job on this beautiful, mysterious, and hypnotic piece (especially that virtuosic “Presto”). It’s 20 years since John Williams’ spellbinding version came out (on The Guitarist John Williams); Kaya’s assured rendering certainly deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.
The other major work on the album, Domeniconi’s five-part Don-Quijote-Suite from 2005 (inspired by the Cervantes story, of course), was new to me, and it, too, is a wonderful and complex piece. Not surprisingly, it gives the composer the opportunity to delve into some rich Spanish flavors—especially in the introductory first section, which has a courtly, Spanish Renaissance feeling in parts, and in the third movement, Aventuras, which is partly imbued with Spanish/flamenco qualities. But there’s much more going on in this profound character study. In the many quieter passages, you can hear the doubt, disappointment and resignation in Don Quixote as he nears the end of his life, and in the final movement, “Transfiguration y muerte,” we are witness to the gradual ebbing of his once-vibrant lifeforce and perhaps even the last beats of the old man’s heart; what a deeply evocative work it is!
There’s much more to discover here, including several other pieces that explicitly take us back to Turkey, and one based on a Japanese folk song. I highly recommend you check out this album!
Koyunbaba Suite, Op. 19; Schnee in Istanbul (Snow in Istanbul), Op. 51; Schneeschmeize (Melting Snow), Op. 51a; Uzun Unce bir Yoldaym (Veysel, arr. Kaya); Improvisation in makam Hüseyni (Kaya); Variations on an Anatolian Folk Song, Op. 15; Taqsim, Op. 106; Minyo (Variations on a Japanese Folk Song, Op. 50d); Don-Quijote-Suite, Op. 123
It’s pure coincidence that in the same batch of albums I’m writing about Domeniconi, who has been so influenced by Turkish music, there is also this excellent project from Duo Tandem, which consists of Mark Anderson from Chicago and London-based Necati Emirzade, who hails from the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, in the Mediterranean right below Turkey, west of Syria, but also culturally influenced by nearby Greece. So what we have here is a fascinating amalgam of styles which holds together amazingly well. Anderson explained to me, “For this album we commissioned half of the music and wrote the other half ourselves. The four main compositions on the album Yeşil Şiir, John Henry, the Cyprian Rhapsodies, and the Four Hypnoses (after Skip James) are woven together by four short interludes. All of the music draws from Cypriot Turkish and American folk music and culture… [The album] tells the story of a beautifully chaotic reconciliation of cultures.”
Indeed, except not so chaotic; actually quite smooth and natural. If the names “John Henry” and “Skip James” are unfamiliar to you, I should explain that the former is a mythical American steel-driver (railroad worker) who has been the subject of many folk and blues songs and stories since the 19th century, while the latter was an influential blues singer and guitarist in the mid-20th century. Anderson brings a lot of blues into the mix here, from expressive bent notes to bursts of effective slide guitar (extremely rare on so-called “classical guitar” records—still an appropriate label for this), while Emirzade excels at the sort of propulsive, highly rhythmic, even percussive, strains of southeast Mediterranean cultures. But they trade musical ideas back and forth so effortlessly, and they’re such skilled an intuitive players, that at a certain point they reach a magical blend that is no longer any one style, but instead a new and exciting polyglot.
This album goes to some really interesting and compelling places, so keep an open mind and prepare to be transported!
Before You Wake, Yeşil Şiir; Do You Hear It Calling?; John Henry; Watching the World Go By; Cyprian Rhapsodies I & II (Belevi); Don’t Shut Your Eyes!; Four Hypnoses (After Skip James): Lay Down, Revealed, Laden, Spirit (Shatzer)
This is the third album from Adelaide, Australia–based guitarist Aloysius Leeson, who studied extensively in Spain (where he apprenticed with various flamenco singers and dancers), and also has done academic work (for his master’s degree in philosophy at the University of Adelaide) on the relationship between classical and flamenco guitar in Spain from 1850 to the present day. So whereas many a classical guitarist might include Albéniz’s Leyenda, a few Julián Arcas’ Soleá, and fewer still Rodrigo’s Dos Preludios as part of some sort of mixed recital, Leeson includes them here specifically to tie them to more overtly flamenco pieces of his own, to emphasize that classical-flamenco connection. (In fact examples and analysis of all three of those Spanish works appear in Leeson’s dissertation, which can be found here.)
Four of Leeson’s five originals—each of which bears a flamenco style next to its title; see below—feature accompanying percussion from Adrian van Numan, which is a nice touch that adds some extra texture and energy to three those tracks (not so sure about the alegría Noosa). I freely admit that I have had relatively little exposure to flamenco, so I feel I am not in a position to comment on either the quality or authenticity of his original compositions, but I can say that there is much stylistic variety to the writing and a fluidity to Leeson’s playing, and I especially enjoyed the occasional forays into the Middle Eastern roots of flamenco, the biggest dose coming on Luz de Vela, which is smartly sequenced right after Leyenda. The Arcas piece is lovely and moving, and, as I’ve come to expect, the Rodrigo Preuldios fascinating and unpredictable. The lone Leeson piece without percussion, Verano, is also a standout.
Cosmos (bulería); Soleá de Arcas (Arcas); Noosa (alegría); Leyenda (Albéniz); Lux de Vela(zambra); Verano (taranta); Mi Amor (soleá por bulería); Prelude 1 and 2 (Rodrigo)