Recent Album Releases: Jan Depreter Plays Villa-Lobos, Martha Masters’ Baroque Project, Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti

Jan Depreter shines on Villa-Lobos album

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 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 (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!

To see links to all of our online album listings/reviews, click here. —Blair Jackson

Heitor Villa-Lobos: Complete Works for Guitar Solo
Jan Depreter

Belgian guitarist extraordinaire Jan Depreter is not the first person to record the complete solo guitar works of Villa-Lobos (Fabio Zanon and Norbert Kraft are among those who tackled them as a unit, and they are spread across ), nor will he likely be the last, but his recording from the summer of 2018 is a wonderful compendium, executed with the faultless technique, power, and elan we’ve come to expect from Depreter. Of course, many of these pieces pop up in the repertoires of countless classical guitarists around the world, and most of them sit comfortably in mixed programs. But to me they sound even better heard in the context of other Villa-Lobos guitar works, as they’re presented here, particularly the first half, which features some of what I feel is the most beautiful music ever written for classical guitar: Chôros No. 1, the five-part Suite Populaire Brésilienne (I particularly love that lilting “Gavotta-Chôro”), and, best of all, Cinq Préludes pour Guitar, which offers an astounding range of melodic flights, from pretty uptempo romps to the exquisite “Lento.” Depreter is masterful throughout, his active left hand wringing extra emotion out certain notes, his right hand eliciting subtle tonal shifts with ease. The speedy passages flow with seemingly effortless elegance, the slow ones ooze heartfelt emotion.

I’m probably in the minority on this, but for me the Douze Études pour Guitare that make up the second half of the disc are not nearly as interesting. Because they’re études, presumably intended to teach specific skills, they don’t develop the way conventional pieces do, so there’s not as much going in some of them. And while some of them sound fiendishly difficult, and no doubt mastering all the études would aid in the playing of the more formal Villa-Lobos pieces, as a group they are not as compelling a listening experience. (That said, some are marvelous standalone pieces, like the jaunty No. 7 and moody No. 11.) Still, I highly recommend this disc, which I’ve listened to a lot, always getting new things out of it. Great recording by Bart Celis, too!

Choros No. 1; Suite Populaire Bresilienne: Mazurka, Schottish, Valsa, Gavotta, Chorinho; Cinq Préludes pour Guitare: Andantino espressivo, Andantino, Andante, Lento, Poco animato; Douze Etudes pour Guitare: 1. Allegro non troppo, 2. Allegro, 3. Allegro moderato, 4. Poco moderato, 5. Andantico, 6. :Poco allegro, 7. Tres anime, 8Modere, 9.Tre peu anime 10. Tres anime, 11. Lent 12. Anime

The album can be purchased through CD Baby, bought and/or streamed through iTunes/Apple Music and Amazon, and streamed on Spotify and YouTube.


Baroque Mindset
Martha Masters
Independent/CD Baby

This is another one that I’ve listened to many times—in different situations, from headphones to background music at a recent outdoor summer dinner—and I’ve enjoyed it immensely in every setting. Let’s face it, it’s hard to go wrong with a well-played album of Baroque music! Though none of these pieces are rarities, exactly, neither are they “Baroque’s Greatest Hits!” Relying mostly on well-established transcriptions by Carlo Marchione (Telemann), Manuel Barrueco (Bach), and Peter Danner (Kellner)—the Weiss transcriptions are not credited, so perhaps they are her own?—Martha Masters brings great vitality and sophistication to all of these strong works, playing with fluidity and obvious confidence; always in the flow, the ornaments blooming sweetly, and never labored.

I suppose the Bach Sonata for Violin, BWV 1005 is the marquee piece here—it’s a wonderfully varied work, with a magnificent “Fuga”—but I was actually most struck by the three works by Kellner (all unfamiliar to me), and the concluding two Weiss pieces, especially the stately “Passacaglia.” But it all sounds fantastic (again, kudos to engineer Ryan Ayers for his full and present sound capture), and I can easily can see this becoming one of my go-to choices whenever I’m in a “Baroque mindset” (which is often!).

Fantasias I and III (Telemann; trans. Marchione); Sonata for Violin, BWV 1005 (Bach, trans. Barrueco); 3 Pieces: Fantasia, Aria, Giga (Kellner; trans. Danner); Fantasia (Weiss), Passacaglia (Weiss)

The album can be bought on CD Baby, purchased and/or streamed through Amazon and iTunes/Apple Music, and streamed on Spotify and YouTube.

Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti
Slap the Moon Records

I fully realize that Indian music is not everyone’s cup of (darjeeling) tea, but I have been a fan going back to my teenage years in the mid- and late ’60s—my older brother (who became a career Asian religions scholar) brought home a Ravi Shankar album, then George Harrison’s excursions with The Beatles into Indian music deepened my appreciation, and finally the highly improvisatory “raga-rock” of the late ’60s cemented my love of Indian forms. So when I first encountered Scottish guitarist Simon Thacker’s mesmerizing fusion of Western classical guitar and Indian forms several years ago, I loved it immediately. (You can read an article Simon wrote for CG in 2015 here.)

His Indian-oriented albums have become increasingly rich and complex with each release, and this latest effort—a sprawling two-disc affair credited to Thacker and his continually evolving group of Asian and European musicians and singers known as Svari-Kanti—is an extremely impressive achievement. If you look at the musicians listed below, you will no doubt encounter instruments you’ve never heard (they’re all Indian drums), but also cello and violin, played for the most part in distinctly Indian ways by Justyna Jablonska and Jacqueline Shave respectively. Each of the two CDs (totaling well over two hours of music) has its own personnel and musical approach, with the left-handed virtuoso Thacker the only constant—and he is a truly brilliant player. CD 1 is dominated by Thacker’s own compositions, along with a few adapted from traditional Punjabi songs, with the ebb and flow of guitar-and-percussion interplay at their roots, with added flavors here and there. The Fire of Intention is splendid showcase for violinist Shave. Nirjanavana is a lovely and hypnotic piece featuring Thacker tastefully “accompanying” himself via a delay unit. CD 2 is centered on the Baul culture/tradition and has more vocal pieces (including a handful by a 19th century philosopher, social reformer, and songwriter named Lalon Fakir), along with a single Thacker instrumental, Prabhava, which he describes as an extrapolation from Baul sources, but sounds  almost like jazz to me (and perhaps better suited to CD1).

The album is beautifully packaged, with lots of photos and extensive notes from Thacker about the music and the musicians and the making of the album. A deep and fascinating journey from  beginning to end!

Personnel: Simon Thacker (classical guitar), Raju Das Baul (voice, khomok), Sunayana Ghosh (tabla), K.V. Gopalakrishnan (kanjira), N. Guruprasad (ghatam), Justyna Jablonska (cello), Japjit Kaur (voice), Afsana Khan (voice), Sarvar Sabri (tabla), Jacqueline Shave (violin), Sukhvinder Singh “Pinky” (tabla), Neyveli B. Venkatesh (mridangam), Farida Yesmin (voice)

Disc 1: Panchajanya; Ajj Koi Seade Vehre Aaya (trad.); The Fire of Intention; Chan Kithan Guzari; Ayee Raat Ve (trad.); Vande Mataram (Bhattarcharya); MaNN Vasanai; Tappe (trad.); Beyond Mara I & II; Nirjanavana

Disc 2: Hari Din To Gelo (trad.); Helay Helay Din Boye Jay (Lalon); Tomra Kunjo Sajao Go (Karim); Bhromor Koio Giya (Dutta); Keno Dubli Na Mon (Lalon); Donyo Donyo Boli Tare (Lalon); Menoka Mathay Dilo Ghomta (trad.); Prabhava; Ekla Chalo Re (Tagore); Pakhi Kokhon Jani Ure Jay (Lalon); Dil Doriyar Majhe (Lalon)

At the moment, the album is available only through Simon Thacker’s website, and, alas, it is not available for streaming. (If that changes, we’ll update that here.) However, the good news is that Thacker has been systematically posting performance videos of many of the songs on the album, three of which appear below!