Recent Albums by Duo Adentro, Duo Sonidos, and the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet
Duo Adentro's Maarten Vandenbemden and Saskia Van Herzeele
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 few months.
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Some of the albums I write 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 (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!
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Once Upon a Time…Music for Guitar and Piano Duo Adentro
It was just over a month ago, in early March 2019, that I first ran across a video by Duo Adentro—guitarist Maarten Vandenbemden and pianist Saskia Van Herzeele—and posted it as part a our week-long celebration of ‘The Guitar as Chamber Instrument,’ which was the Special Focus theme in the Spring 2019 issue of Classical Guitar. In my write-up, I noted that I had heard relatively few guitar-piano duos; perhaps there is something about the timbral match that scares players away from combining the two instruments. But that video, of Duo Adentro playing the first movement of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, really showed how sympathetic and well-balanced the pairing could be, and I closed by writing, “I want to hear more from this duo!”
Well, about a week or so later, I received this full-length Duo Adentro album in the mail, and I’m happy to report that it lives up to my hopeful expectations, and even exceeds them! The image on the cover of Once Upon a Time… Music for Guitar and Piano is Monet’s beautiful, serene, 1875 painting Woman with a Parasol–Madame Monet and Her Son, which appeared in the landmark second Impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1876—and it fits the mood of the album perfectly. The music is full of light, color, calm, and fresh breezes. And two of the five composers represented on the album are often labelled “impressionists” themselves (though many painters and composers so dubbed had quarrels with that word): Claude Debussy’s gorgeous, elegant four-part Petit Suite, originally written for four-handed piano, opens the album with dreamy melodies that seem to drift like the clouds in the Monet painting (“En bateau”), before venturing into a variety of more upbeat dance-inspired spaces. And Debussy’s younger colleague, Maurice Ravel, turns up here with a thoroughly delightful five-part suite of themes based on children’s stories, called Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose). As with the Debussy, it was written for four-handed piano and later orchestrated. The wonderful arrangements are by Duo Adentro and they miraculously manage to showcase both instruments almost equally, thanks in part to the clear, egalitarian mix by engineer Wolfgang Heirmans. I know I say this a lot, but I really recommend you listen to this album on headphones to hear it in perfect balance.
The aforementioned Arpeggione Sonata translates very nicely to the piano-guitar combination (the arpeggione was sort of like a combination of a cello and a guitar, so not too far out of the ballpark). Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Fantasia, Op. 145 is among the most popular pieces written specifically for the guitar-piano combination—it was dedicated to Andrés Segovia and his second wife, Paquita Madriguera, a pianist, though as far as I can tell he never recorded it. Still, after quite lyrical opening it veers into a tapestry of rich Spanish textures, with several exciting moments of musical fireworks. Plainte, by Federico Mompou (one of his Impresiones intimes), closes the album on a lovely and graceful note.
What a joy this album is! I could listen to this music all day!
Petite Suite: En bateau, Cortege, Menuet, Ballet (Debussy); Fantasia Op. 145: Andantino, Vivacissimo (Catelnuovo-Tedesco); Sonata for Piano & Arpeggione (Schubert); Ma Mère l’Oye. M.60: Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant, Petit Poucet, Laideronette impératrice des pagodes, Les entretiens de la Belle et de la Bete, Le jardin féerique (all by Ravel); Plainte—Pt. 1 from Impresiones intimes (Mompou)
Wild Dance:Arrangements for Violin and Guitar Duo Sonidos
Guitarist Adam Levin is having quite a “moment” (as they say): The past year-plus has seen the release of the third volume of his 21st Century Spanish Guitar series; the imaginative Great Necks guitar trio album; and now this work from Duo Sonidos (Levin and violinist William Knuth). Levin seems to love nothing more than exposing people to new music or to music that is newly arranged for classical guitar. Hats off to him for greatly expanding the instrument’s repertoire; he’s doing important work!
The album at hand, Wild Dance (a translation of the title one of two pieces on the album by the Polish violinist/composer duo Paul Kochanski and Karol Szymanowski) is the first in a promised three-part series of albums by Duo Sonidos featuring guitar-violin arrangements by guitarist Gregg Nestor. I’m not sure if they are to be themed, exactly, but I do recall that in my interview with Levin last year he noted that he has been interested in exploring his Jewish roots musically, and I would say that shines through much of this album. Tapping rarely played works by Ravel and Rodrigo—composers usually known for their Spanish and French impressionist flavors—the duo offer Four Sephardic Songs from the former (Rodrigo’s wife was a Sephardic Jew) and Two Hebraic Melodies from the latter; both originally vocal works. Coupled with the pair of pieces from Kochanski/Szymanowski and the theme from Steven Spielberg’s great holocaust film, Schindler’s List (by film composer John Williams), and you’ve got a lot of Eastern European–influenced sonorities, and also a lot of somber music. At least that’s how it reads to me. Most of it is unquestionably beautiful, but I hear that style of violin and no matter what the composer’s intent, I’m thinking about the suffering of impoverished Jews in Europe through the centuries. Even Ponce’s lovely Estrellita seems to take on some of the surrounding sadness; but maybe I’m projecting.
My favorite pieces on the album have less of that feeling: The two short themes from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (the jazzy It Ain’t Necessarily So and a nicely restrained Summertime); two parts of Erich Korngold’s Much Ado About Nothing Suite (the “Hornpipe” provides the album’s liveliest moments); and Lukas Foss’s engaging Three American Pieces, which dip into a number of interesting and evocative colors (folk to Copland) and rhythms, especially the pulsing third movement, “Composer’s Holiday.”
An emotionally satisfying effort all the way around. As with so many Naxos recordings, Norbert Kraft is responsible for exceptional engineering/production.
Excerpts from Porgy and Bess: It Ain’t Necessarily So, Summertime (Gershwin); Swit, Dziki taniec (Kochanski/Szymanowski); Cuatro canciones sefardíes (Rodrigo); Deux Mélodies hébraïques (Ravel); Excerpts from ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ Suite (Korngold); Estrellita (Ponce); Theme from ‘Schindler’s List’ (Williams); Three American Pieces (Foss)
I guess I’ve been seriously out of the loop, because this is the first time I’ve encountered the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, which has been around in various incarnations since 1986 (!) and have recorded five previous albums that span just about every era and style of music imaginable. (Clearly, I have some catching up to do!) The current lineup consists of founder Joseph Hagedorn, Maja Radovanlija, Ben Kunkel, and Wade Oden.
This is an eclectic program, to say the least. There is a marvelous excursion through Bach’s Toccata in D Minor BWV 913—a well-known, oft-covered keyboard piece that works exceptionally well for guitar quartet, where four distinct voices lend a tremendous amount of depth to the piece, but without the unnecessary clutter of too many guitars playing all the time; it’s supremely tasteful. There are two arrangements—courtesy of MGQ’s Serbia-born Radovanlija—of Macedonian tunes: a tuneful, traditional (possibly 16th century) folk number that has (at least) three distinct sections and some nicely employed effects; and the pretty, modern (1960s) piece called Macedonian Girl, which has been popular among solo guitarists for some time through an arrangement by Miroslav Tadic, but, again, is filled out very skillfully in this quartet reading.
Quartet leader Joseph Hagedorn has a special affinity for the works of Joaquín Rodrigo, and has bookended this album with two piano suites he has artfully arranged for the group. Cuatro Piezas Para Piano were written in 1936–38, right before the immortal Concierto de Aranjuez. All four are wonderful little nuggets, three of them danzas, but the longest of the group, “Plegaria de la Infanta di Castilla,” a heart-rending ballad that sounds to me like a cross between a Bach sarabande and stray elements of the soon-to-be-famous “Adagio” from the Aranjuez. I’ll be surprised if this Rodrigo four-pack isn’t adopted by many quartets—what a gift to the guitar world! I find the album-ending Cuatro Estampas Andaluzas (Four Andalusian Impressions; written separately between 1946 and 1952), a bit more difficult to embrace. It is filled with modern sonorities—dissonant melodic lines, abrupt tempo and rhythm changes—and an overall darkness that doesn’t appeal to me particularly. At the same time, though, there are some strikingly attractive passages throughout that bring a needed respite to the spirit.
The other piece on the disc is a commission from American composer Ian Krouse called Starwaves (On a Song of Nick Drake). Drake, as some of you may know, was a sensitive British folk singer-songwriter who put out three barely noticed albums between 1969 and 1972 (actually, I was fan of his then, but literally knew no others!), and took his own life in the fall of 1974. Over time, his oeuvre has has been “discovered” by successive generations of fans, and these days he’s widely liked and respected. The “Song” on which Krouse based his work for the MGQ is called “Hanging on a Star” which was one of the last tunes Drake recorded, and didn’t appear on an album until a 1987 release of outtakes and rarities. (Dare to be obscure, Ian!) But it’s a cool song and Krouse and the MGQ use it as a springboard to inventive extrapolations on the original’s brooding rhythmic thrum and haunting melody, and, needless to say, over the course of close to 15 minutes, it goes far, far astray from Drake’s 2:49 version—touching on all sorts of musical moods, from delicate introspective passages to clashing rhythmic bursts. It’s a very compelling, multi-layered piece; a truly unique portrait of a troubled but gentle artist.
Give this album a spin!
Cuatro Piezas Para Piano: Caleseras, Fandango del ventorrillo, Plega de la Infanta de Castilla,Danza valenciana (Rodrigo, arr. Hagedorn); Toccata in D Minor, BWV 913 (Bach, arr. Hagedorn); Preseta se Jovka Kumanovka (trad. arr. Radovanlija); Macedonian Girl (Hristovski; arr. Radovanlija); Starwaves–On a Song by Nick Drake (Krouse); Cuatro Estampas Andaluzas: El vendador de chanquetes, Crepuscolo sobre el Guadalquiver, Barquitos de Cádiz (Rodrigo, arr. Hagedorn)