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
Harris Guitar Foundation
I confess to being a little biased about this release, having seen Marcin Dylla play the two major pieces on this CD—Ponce’s Variations on Folia de España and Fugue and Britten’s famous Nocturnal after John Dowland, Op. 70 at a sensational concert at the GFA convention in Miami, Florida, this past June. I have long thought that Dylla is without question among the upper echelon of contemporary players, and this release has only confirmed that view. It’s not to be missed! Rounding out the CD is his perfect, unassailable version of Villa-Lobos’ five Preludes, which have become among my favorite works in the guitar repertoire.
Dylla could undoubtedly record these pieces on a $250 guitar and make them sound wondrous, but an added bonus to this CD is that he used three magnificent instruments that are part of the Harris Guitar Collection housed at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (where he was part of the guest faculty in the fall of 2016). Though regrettably not itemized-by-piece in the notes for the album, the guitars he used were a 1965 Ignacio Fleta originally built for Carlos Barbosa-Lima on the Ponce Variations; an 1888 Antonio de Torres originally owned by Miguel Llobet for the Villa-Lobos; and a 1948 Hermann Hauser I for the Britten. I’ve always had some difficulty fully embracing the Nocturnal, but between the live performance and this CD, I really feel like I’ve “gotten” it in ways I never have before. And though I couldn’t tell you why, I like its pairing with the Ponce, which is so incredibly variegated and deep in some of the same (and different!) ways. A great achievement!
So far, this CD is not easy to come by. (I bought it after the GFA concert.) It lacks a proper distributor at the moment, but perhaps that will be rectified in the near future. For now, the only way to buy it is to send a check for $30 (which includes postage) paid to the order of the “Harris Guitar Foundation,” at 1569 Solano Ave. Suite 201, Berkeley, CA 94707. You won’t be disappointed. And next up from the Harris Guitar Foundation: Another from George Sakellariou. It’s time for a distributor to step up and make these discs more available!
Have 25 minutes to spare? This is definitely worth your time!
Domenico Rainer: Music For Baroque Guitar
Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of composer/guitarist Domenico Rainer, who apparently lived in the late 17th and early 18th century (though his birth and death dates and all other biographical information are so far elusive) and wrote pieces that, according to Dutch guitarist, vihuelist, and scholar Lex Eisenhardt in this album’s detailed notes, have “one foot in the tradition of of the 17th century Italian-French battuto-pizzicato style (with chord strums mixed into plucked lute-style textures) of virtuosi such as Angelo Michele Bartolotti, Francesco Corbetta, and Roberto de Visée. . . [and also] took inspiration from the innovative style of composing of Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713), whose influence extended to Antonio Vivaldi and Johann Sebastian Bach.” Eisenhardt notes that a large manuscript containing music bearing Rainer’s name was only recently discovered in a library in Rome; evidently this is the first recording of any of his music. Typical of the era from which they came, most of the 27 short pieces on this CD attributed to Rainer (some not definitively) are “dances”—gigas and sarabandas and gavottas, etc.—which are grouped by key, and Eisenhardt plays them on a five-course gut-string Baroque guitar: a reproduction of an instrument by Antonio Stradivari made by Bert Kwakkel. In the beautifully made video below, you can see Eisenhardt reading directly off a reproduction of the original score (no easy feat, I’m sure) and plucking/strumming that wonderful-sounding instrument: How’s that for extra authenticity? Period dress and a wig would’ve been a nice touch. (Just kidding!)
The music is uniformly appealing. As with so much music from this era, the progressions and melodies sound instantly familiar; it is easy to intuit where they are going and how they will resolve. I always love a good sarabanda, and there are several fine ones here. I also like the lone fuga, passacaglia, and the capriccio. All in all, a worthy disc that gives us a new composer to appreciate.
Works in G minor; Works in C; Works in A minor; Works in D minor and D; Works in B minor; Works in G Minor; Works in C minor; Works in B minor
The Rainer album can be purchased through Brilliant Classics, streamed and/or purchased through Amazon and iTunes/Apple Music, and streamed on Spotify and YouTube.
Albéniz: España, Suite Española No. 1
You have to admire the ambition of young American guitarist Alec Holcomb who, for his recording debut, has eschewed the usual eclectic “recital” approach and instead dived deep into Albéniz, presenting his own thoughtful transcriptions of the six-part España: Op. 165, the seven-movement Suite Española No. 1, and concluding with L’Automne–Valse. Now, on the one hand you might say that by revisiting such popular pieces as Malagueña, Capricho Catalan, Granada, Sevilla, Cadiz and, of course, Asturias, Holcomb has made a safe commercial calculation. But the other side of that coin is that if he didn’t transcribe them well and play them brilliantly, his work would pale before the countless Albéniz interpreters who have preceded him—and that list includes many of the greatest guitarists of the last century.
Is this going to make you forget the Bream and Segovia and other interpretations? Probably not, but that’s not the point. What Holcomb has done here is presented the two complete suites with tremendous energy, fluidity, delicacy, and power, and created a seamless journey through Albéniz’s masterworks. Presenting them in this format allows us to appreciate the contrasts between the different components, and also the way they fall together into a truly magical amalgam. Yes, the Asturias is what I would hope for, but it’s all the more interesting sitting in between Cadiz and Aragón. And the full-suite approach also gives equal weight to some of the slightly less-played pieces, such as Zortzico, Castilla, and Cuba. And outside the suites, the moody L’Automne was completely new to me: I can almost hear the falling leaves and feel the crisp air, as Holcomb gently escorts us from the sun-baked Spain of the other suites; a lovely note to end on.
The recording by Dave Martin could not be better, either. Very highly recommended!
(Also, you can read about Alec Holcomb and this project in the Fall 2019 issue of Classical Guitar.)
España: Preludio, Tango, Malagueña, Serenata, Capricho Catalan, Zortzico; Suite Española No. 1, Op. 47: Granada, Cataluña, Sevilla, Cádiz, Asturias, Aragón, Castilla, Cuba; L’Automne -Valse, Op. 170
Holcomb’s Albéniz album can be sampled and bought on CD Baby, sampled, purchased and/or streamed through Amazon and iTunes/Apple Music, and streamed on Spotify and YouTube.