Recent Album Releases: Duo Morat-Fergo Play Schubert; Early Romantic Guitars Played by Roland Gallery; Kristen Waligora
Rauol Morat (R) and Christian Fergo are spectacular on their new album of piano works by Schubert
Some weeks we take a peek at recent albums or sheet music releases. Here are three CDs I like that have come into the Classical Guitar office within the past several months.
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You can listen to some of these on various 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 (Amazon, for instance, has outlets in many different countries/regions, but we generally link to the U.S. version), so check your favorite places that sell CDs and downloads, as well as your favorite streaming sites. —Blair Jackson
Franz Schubert: A Sentimental Moment Duo Morat-Fergo
This album was released at the end of 2018 but only reached me in California in the fall of 2019, so I’m a little late getting to it. But better late than never, because it’s definitely among the best albums I heard in 2019 and it is not to be missed! The duo of Danish guitarist Christian Fergo and Swiss guitarist Raoul Morat are specialists in transcribing/interpreting 19th century classical piano music onto Romantic Viennese guitars—in this case, modern instruments built by Czech luthier Jan Tulacek modeled after an original period nine-string guitar crafted by the early- to mid-19th century Viennese luthier Nikolaus Georg Ries, who worked in the famed Stauffer workshop.
More often than not, Franz Schubert’s entree into the classical-guitar world (both in his lifetime and since) has come through as an accompanying instrument on various vocal songs, but here the duo has chosen a number of pieces from the prolific Mr. Schubert’s solo piano oeuvre, limiting themselves “to the lyrical piano pieces, dances, and miniatures which are a better match for the guitar than the large-scale, almost orchestrally conceived piano sonatas,” they write in the liner notes (which appear in English and German). Their choices could not have been better! They manage to communicate at once both the idiosyncratic nature of the guitar and the miraculous ability of two guitars to capture the fullness of a single piano. When I listen to this collection of short(ish) pieces, I hear a composer who was clearly enthralled and influenced by his contemporary and friend Beethoven—the drama and gravitas and occasionally unpredictable harmonies—as well as some of the vivacious melodic and rhythmic brilliance of Mozart who, though he died in 1791, seven years before Schubert was born, was still a titanic figure in Viennese music. (Beethoven and Schubert died just a year apart, in 1827 and 1828, respectively, but Schubert died young—at just 36; Beethoven was 56.) This is not to take anything away from Schubert as an original composer, as he definitely had his own voice; a powerful and sensitive one.
Every track on the album is wonderfully performed, and my favorites change with each listening. In terms of variety and the mix of complicated and straightforward works, it’s hard to top the delightful and also moving Six Moments musicaux, but its also impossible not to be charmed by the generous selection of 13 of the brief Valse sentimentales, only two of which exceed a minute in length.
The Calliope Early Romantic Guitar Collection Roland Gallery
(Calliope Guitar Project)
We followed the progress of this project for more than a year, as all the pieces to make it happen fell into place, and I’m pleased to report that it was worth the wait. Here’s what we wrote about it in News section of the Fall 2019 issue of CG:
“Earlier this summer , Roland Gallery, a leading chamber player based in England, recorded an album on nine early-Romantic guitars from what’s known collectively as The Calliope Collection. It includes a Baroque six-single-string made by Longman in 1800; guitars from London’s most famous 19th century luthiers, Louis Panormo (French model, 1831) and the Roudhloff brothers (X-braced melophonic guitar, 1848); plus instruments crafted by Théodore Rigondeau (1822), J.G. Stauffer (Legnani model, 1829), A. Guiot (Panormo Spanish style, 1830s), William Hanbury (Panormo Spanish style, 1836), Antonio Carlos Garcia (mid- to late 19th century), and also a guitar previously owned by the famous guitar teacher, composer, and performer Madame Sidney Pratten, likely made by C. Boulanger in the 1860s.
“With Michael Addlesee overseeing the recording, Gallery selected pieces to play he thought were particularly suited to bring out each guitar’s unique tonal qualities, including works by José Ferrer, J.K. Mertz, Fernando Sor, Giulio Regondi, José Broca, Ernest Shand, and Julian Arcas.”
The finished product is a remarkable journey back in time, as Gallery interprets 18 different works by seven different composers (temporally spanning Sor to Shand ) on nine different guitars built from around 1800 to the 1860s. Now, I will be the first to admit that I am no expert in historic guitars, and I don’t really have the critical vocabulary to describe the sonic nuances between the various instruments. I could mention that Roudhloff x-braced melophonic guitar from the 1840s sounds especially bright and present to me (playing two works by Regondi), and the J.G. Stauffer Luigi Legnani model from 1829 is perhaps the warmest-sounding of the guitars (playing Mertz), but that doesn’t really tell you much. The variations in sound are mostly fairly subtle to my ears. But fortunately, in his fascinating liner notes, Gallery does articulate some of the challenges the project presented, and why he matched each guitar with the composers he selected. (Photos of all the guitars appear in the booklet, as well.) Most of the pieces were new to me, and I enjoyed each one and the great variety of styles overall. Also, it’s nice to hear some different repertoire!
Although the owner of the guitars in the Calliope Collection has chosen not to announce himself in the CD packaging, he deserves a salute for letting us hear some beautiful-sounding instruments plucked and strummed by a truly fine musician, rather than having these rare guitars sitting in glass cases somewhere, unplayed. There’s still plenty of life in these marvelously sculpted pieces of old wood!
Bolero; La Cubana (Arcas); Songe d’Amour; Morceau lyrique No. 2 (Shand); Five by Sor: Op. 29, No. 24; Op. 31, Nos. 23–24; Op. 60, Nos. 22–23; El Catalan; Crepuscuto No. 2 (Broca); Nocturne, Op. 2 (Mertz); Four Pieces (Ferrer)
At the moment, the album is available only from Transistor Music, and is not on any streaming platforms (yet).
Here’s a brief rehearsal video of the Pratten (C. Boullangier) guitar, shot during the setup for one of the recording sessions:
In the Night’s Wood Kristen Waligora
This is the first solo album from Portland, Oergon, guitarist Kristen Waligora, whose previous recording was an excellent disc, called Portrait, she made as one-half of Duo Tenebroso with her longtime playing partner David Franzen. (You can read my review of that album here.) Waligora’s album is beautifully recorded (by Franzen) and played. It’s a mixed recital the guitarist says will “guide you on a sonic journey through the The Night’s Wood. Within this wood are moments of quiet exploration, grit, yearning, and joy…” OK, I can sort of hear that; at any rate, it’s a really interesting selection of pieces that do manage to hold together, despite being from disparate eras and in different styles.
It is bookended by attractive pieces from Ponce (four of his preludes and the Preambulo), but in between there are so many moods and feelings that Waligora investigates, each a world unto itself. Vincent’s Night, written by Waligora’s friend Kristina Avila, imagines what might have gone through the mind of Van Gogh when he painted his iconic “Starry Night,” but to Avila’s credit she does not dwell in some dissonant “tortured artist” trope; rather it is a quite lyrical piece, suffused with the ecstasy of the artist’s vision and, yes, glimpses of the unanswerable mysteries of his soul. The Black Decameron (El Decameron Negro) is one of my favorite Leo Brouwer works, and it has been recorded and performed by many top guitarists, including Sharon Isbin (to whom it was dedicated), John Williams, Antigoni Goni, Jorge Caballero, and many others. Waligora does a fine job negotiating its melodic flights and its trickier rhythmic moments; so integral to mastering Brouwer. Very strong!
The “Prelude” from Bach’s Lute Suite No. IV (BWV 1006A) arguably the best-known work here—a Bach “greatest hit” if I can be so crass, and as I like to say, popular for a reason: It’s wonderfully infectious, but as a musician, you better be able to instantly jump into its complicated flow and play it precisely if you’re going to tackle it. Waligora does, and it makes for a splendid mood elevator on a disc that leans (just a bit) toward the darkly cerebral. Also on the album are Baden Powell’s moody Valsa Sen Nome (a cool, unexpected choice) and MacPherson’s Lament which, by all rights, should be full of sadness and despair—it was supposedly written by poor MacPherson the night before he was executed in 1700—but turns out to be a lovely and graceful tune that celebrates life, not wallow in impeding doom.
The album is full of those sorts of contrasts, and Waligora has done a great job of putting together a diverse program that is both dreamily introspective and filled with passion.
Prelude Nos. 1, 2,4, 6 (Ponce); The Black Decameron (Brouwer); Valsa Sem Nome (Powell); Lute Suite No. 4 BWV 1006A: Prelude (Bach); MacPherson’s Lament (MacPherson); Preambulo (Ponce)