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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By Candlelight: Music By Andrew York Brian Farrell
It’s a testament to American composer-guitarist Andrew York that another guitarist would devote an entire CD to his works, and that even that just scratches the surface of York’s prodigious and varied writing output. Here, Irish guitarist Brian Farrell (last reviewed in Classical Guitar for his excellent album of pieces by Steve Marsh, By Lindisfarne) shows some of York’s range on a very appealing program that includes three six-part pieces—The Equations of Beauty, Six Not So Easy Pieces, and Six Easy Pieces—as well as seven freestanding ones. York’s penchant for writing infectious phrases and melodies courses through the entire set; though he obviously has many influences, from Baroque to hymns to jazz, I feel it is the influence of folk music, old and new, that colors his writing most (as least on this collection).
In an interview in the Summer 2017 issue of CG, York said of his composing process, “I like small magic moments—a fragment or phrase I can base an entire piece on. In the past I would organically grow form. Now I am also able to switch to formal thinking and work with larger structures at the same time.” Listening to this large dose of York, I was struck over and over by how he is able to stitch together “magic moments”—short riffs and motifs, often in different styles—into often mesmerizing and usually coherent and complete statements. Listen, for instance, to “∞” (presumably “infinity”) from The Equations of Beauty, with its brief dips into tremolo, Middle Eastern spaces, and even a middle section that sounds a bit like a Bach sarabande. York’s incredibly melodious “earworms”—possibly a tad too sweet for some tastes (though not mine)—are what struck me most on first listen. But the second time through, I was drawn to some of the less upbeat, perhaps more enigmatic numbers, such as Veil of Grey, By Candlelight, and Fading Colors. I also like the few moments of wordless vocalization on Yamour.
Farrell’s interpretations capture the shifting moods of York’s writing beautifully, with both delicate passages and the occasional uptempo romp handled equally well. A very satisfying outing from beginning to end.
The Equations of Beauty: h, e, π, i, ∞, c; Six Not So Easy Pieces: Configuration, Andantino, Scott’s Muse, Didactic Doodle, Quadrivial Quandary, In Silence; Andecy; By Candlelight; Home; Skerries; Yamour; Avenue of the Giants; Snowflight; Six Easy Pieces: New Shoes, Veil of Grey, Prelude, Fading Colors, For Anthony, Penny Pincher
Variations for Guitar Sven Lundestad
I like the cover metaphor of this latest release from Norwegian guitarist Sven Lundestad: four butterflies, each markedly different one to the next, but of the same species. On this release, Lundestad opens the disc with four pieces that take us from the late Renaissance, through the Baroque, and into the Classical period, by Ludovico Roncalli (1654–1713), Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583–1643), Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687–1750), and good ol’ Fernando Sor (1778–1839). Lundestad, who is also a teacher of note and author of an acclaimed Norwegian method book, plays this material with tremendous skill and verve. His rhythms are buoyant and sure, and his ornaments have an elegant flair perfectly suited to those styles. I particularly like the lovely Frescobaldi and the Sor. From there, we leap ahead to the 20th century to British composer/guitarist/teacher John Duarte’s eight-part Variations of a Catalan folksong (“Canco del Llabre”), which has been recorded by Duarte’s former student John Williams, among others. It’s a wonderful piece, full of contrasts, including the achingly beautiful opening “Theme” and fourth movement (“no title”), the strangely modern “Vivo con forza,” and the thrilling and intensely strummed “Finale.”
At the risk of being branded an anti-modernist curmudgeon, I am not as fond of Lennox Berkeley’s Theme & variations and Estonian composer René Eespere’s Immutatio, though with the latter piece, the grating and assaultive first half gives way to a quite lyrical and interesting second half that is more to my personal taste. In between is a fine work by Castelnuovo-Tedesco—based on a famous etching by Goya, from his Caprichos series, the title of which translates as “The sleep of reason produces monsters”—that actually seems to capture the spirit of the entire endeavor, hearkening back somewhat to the earlier styles, adding some Romantic drama, and even dabbling briefly in the modern.
Passacaglia (Roncalli); Aria detta la Frescobalda (Frescobaldi); Pasacaille (S.L. Weiss); Variations in F, op. 11 (Sor); Variations on a Catalan Folksong (Duarte); Theme and Variations (Berkeley); El sueño de la razón produce monstruos (Castelnuovo-Tedesco); Immutatio (changes) (Eespere)
Bach: Sei Solo Mats Bergström
Matts Bergström Musik
The prolific Swedish guitarist Mats Bergström is the latest in what seems to be an inordinately large number of players putting out two-disc sets devoted to Bach recently. This one contains Bergström’s own transcriptions of the three Sonatas and three Partitas for solo violin, in order of ascending BWV catalog numbers, which results in the Sonatas and Partitas alternating over the two discs; three per disc. It really wasn’t so long ago that a classical guitarist recording an entire Bach Sonata or Partita (or Cello Suite, for that matter) was relatively rare. Segovia never did it; neither did John Williams (though he did record the complete Lute Suites in the mid-’70s). Bream did later in his career. But I think there’s much to be said for hearing this music in full context, rather than piecemeal, in which certain popular movements are performed and/or recorded in isolation. First time through, I listened to each disc without interruption, and it was heavenly!
Of course the “greatest hit” of this collection is the sprawling and complex “Ciaconna” (Bergström uses the Italian throughout) from Partita No. 2 in D minor, which has become something of a rite of passage for top guitarists ever since Segovia first committed it to vinyl in 1947 (and then again in 1955). Bergström’s interpretation nicely highlights the piece’s many shifts in tone, tempo and dynamics. As Bergström writes in the fascinating and well-written accompanying notes, “Homophony alters with polyphony, long chords with winding fast passages. Half-way into the movement, the key of D major, symbolizing triumph, temporarily substitutes the home key of D minor—according to Schubert, characterized by melancholy.” Whether this version will displace someone else’s in your pantheon of Chaconnes is obviously not for me to say—in every version I’ve heard, I favor certain portions of it over others, this one included. But I can say that Bergström definitely brings a deft and powerful touch to the piece, and it sits well in the flow of these two CDs, which total a generous hour and 14 minutes.
Partita No. 2 isn’t even my favorite piece on here; that honor goes to Partita No. 1 in B minor, which is slightly unusual in that it has eight parts, including three “Doubles.” The second of those, “(IV) Double. Presto” is especially exciting, as Bergström’s playing is smoothly acrobatic, with the torrent of notes tumbling and cascading perfectly. The “Sarabande” in that piece is also particularly exquisite. Some other movements that really knocked me out were the magnificent “Fuga” from Sonata No. 3 in C Major (another of my overall favorites), the popular “Preludio” from Partita No. 3 and “Allegro” from Sonata No. 2, and the mellifluous “Siciliana” from Sonata No. 1. Highly recommended!
(Incidentally, Bergström’s transcriptions of the Tempo di Borea from Partita No. 1 and theCiaccona from Partita No. 2 are available as free downloads on his website.)
Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001; Partita No. 1 in B minor, BWV 1002; Sonata No. 2 in A minor BWV 1003; Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004; Sonata No. 3 in C major BWV 1005; Partita No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006