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!
To see links to all our online album listings/reviews, click here.
Laid Back Mark Hussey
I’ll admit that when this CD showed up in mailbox, the combination of the cutesy cartoon cover (and back cover cartoon of rats struggling to steal a guitar case) and the title of the album did not show much promise or draw me in. Then, when I went on YouTube to see Mark Hussey in action, I was further put off by the fact that his nom de web is “Dr. Fingerstyle.”
But I now humbly recant my doubts and offer two old sayings as part of my penance: “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover” and “What’s in a name?” Because what we have here is an utterly charming and nicely played disc of, yes, mostly calming, “laid back” classical favorites, including three by Tárrega, the seemingly inescapable Pachelbel Canon, the requisite foray into Bach, and even a low-key reading of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5. But also here are lovely interpretations of two of Leo Brouwer’s more melodic and accessible offerings (Un Dia de Noviembre is fast approaching classical “standard” status), and a pair of fine Brazilian pieces: the bouncy, uptempo Sons de Carrilhōes, and the always-affecting Manhã de Carnaval, which no matter who plays it, immediately puts me in the Marcel Camus film Orfeu Negro (for which it was a main theme). It turns out to be friendly and well-balanced selection of pieces.
And if the cover draws in a few light-hearted souls who might not want to see a photo of some stiff, overly serious guy cradling his precious instrument, all the better! Hussey has enjoyed a career playing in all different styles, so perhaps some who know him through his other work will get a good taste of classical guitar through this.
Adelita (Tárrega); Air on a G String, BWV 1068 (J.S. Bach); Canon in D (Pachelbel); Bésame Mucho (Velázquez); Lágrima (Tárrega); Un Dia de Noviembre (Brouwer); Etude 17 (Brouwer); Sons de Carrilhōes (Pernambuco); Manhã de Carnaval (Bonfá/Maria); Gran Vals (Tárrega); Hungarian Dance No. 5 (Brahms)
Music for a While Boreas Duo (Dick Toering, guitar; Johanna Varner, cello)
I’ve now heard enough cello-guitar duo albums to know that more times than not, the cello is going to be more prominent and do most of the heavy-lifting (so to speak) when it comes to stating the main melody of a piece. This makes sense, as the cello is capable of greater volume and practically unlimited sustain on any note. Some of it is the difference between plucking and bowing, some is the size of the instrument. It’s not a fair fight! But of course it’s not a fight, and the two instruments can and do play sympathetically, each adding its own textural flavors.
In this particular case, the Netherlands-based Boreas Duo (cellist Johanna Varner and guitarist Dick Toering) serve up a delicious menu of Renaissance and Baroque pieces by Purcell, Handel (two from each) Dowland, Bach, and the less-known Alessandro Marcello (1669–1747), all of which “favor” the cello, casting the guitar in a more supportive, rhythmic role (sometimes the crisp guitar lines sound like harpsichord continuo). This is not a criticism; the duo plays marvellously together, occasionally harmonizing beautifully, but it is more cello-centric than some I’ve heard in this combination. The opening “Aria” from Villa-Lobos’ striking Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (written in the late 1930s and early 1940s) serves as a bridge between old and newer pieces, and gives the guitar more interesting things to do. Interestingly, this Baroque-Brazilian fusion was originally scored for soprano and multiple cellos; here, the cello appears to borrow from both the soprano line and the most prominent bowed cello line, while Toering’s guitar keeps the rhythm of the plucked cellos in the piece and also contributes some modern chordal elements. It’s a wonderful version.
Also worth calling out are the three excellent contemporary pieces: one each by Varner (the sonorous and hypnotic Apsara) and Toering (the lovely but sad Berceuse), and the gorgeous concluding Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt (which was also a highlight of the Boyd Meets Girl cello-guitar disc I reviewed last year). Recommended!
Music for a While (Purcell); Andante, BWV 1034 (J.S. Bach); Come Again (Dowland); Sarabande (Handel); Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (Villa-Lobos); Adagio (Marcello/Bach); Ständchen (Schubert); Apsara (Varner); Minuet (Handel); Berceuse (Toering); Ground (Croft/Purcell); Spiegel im Spiegel (Pärt)
Chants to the Sea The Corium Project (Ronnie Wiesauer, gtr; Heinz Hasenauer, bass; Klaus Sauli, dr)
OK, let’s get this out of the way at the outset. This is not a classical guitar album. It’s a jazz album with some rock and folk underpinnings. It is, however, mostly played on a Boguslav Teryks nylon-string double-top guitar. Why am I writing about it? Well, initially I was intrigued because I saw that Leo Brouwer’s three-movement El Decameron Negro—certainly considered a modern “classical guitar” composition (it’s been recorded by Sharon Isbin, John Williams, Alvaro Pierri, Elena Papandreou, and many others)—is a thread that goes through the entire album, stitching together seven original compositions by the outstanding Austrian guitarist Ronnie Wiesaur. And when I say “stitching together,” I mean that Wiesauer has split El Decameron Negro, usually around 13 minutes long,into seven parts and used them almost as transitional material between his own pieces, in the order in which they appear in the Brouwer work. So, for example, Brouwer’s first movement, “La Arpa del Guerrero” is divided into three parts: one appears after Wiesaur’s Introduction, the second after a Wiesaur piece called Warrior, the concluding section after one called Going West. With the exception of a few seconds in one of the sections, the Brouwer nuggets are all solo guitar, beautifully played. However, Wiesaur has constructed this suite in such an artful way, that there’s literally no break between the Brouwer selections and his own, and even if he is changing the musical emphasis to something more overtly jazzy—and he’s joined by his exceptional double- bassist, Heinz Hasenaur, and endlessly imaginative drummer Klaus Sauli—the transitions are completely seamless, which is no small feat considering how idiosyncratic the Brouwer piece is.
But good as the Brouwer parts are, it was Wiesaur’s own pieces that really seduced me. (My past as a primarily rock and sometimes-jazz guy is showing here. This will not be embraced by the purist classical audience… to say the least!) The pieces are in a variety of styles, though in general they lean toward the melodic and pleasingly rhythmic. Comparisons can be odious (and inaccurate) but there were parts that reminded me of the very early Pat Metheny Group, Chick Corea’s Return to Forever (occasionally, Wiesaur’s guitar sounds almost piano-like), the ’60s rock group The Doors (The Valley straight-up sounds like the Doors’ hypnotic, Indian-influenced epic “The End” in parts), and perhaps most blatantly, Jimi Hendrix on the screaming electric Stratocaster solo in Mid West. Hasenaur and Sauli are given plenty of places to shine; both are supremely dynamic players, but also tasteful. I love these guys!
Introduction (Corium Project); El Decameron Negro, mvmt.1, pt.1 (Brouwer); The Warrior (Corium Project); El Decameron Negro mvmt.1, pt.2 (Brouwer); Going West (Corium Project); El Decameron Negro mvmt.1, pt. 3 (Brouwer); El Decameron Negro mvmt.2, pt.1 (Brouwer); The Valley (Corium Project); El Decameron Negro mvmt.2, pt.2 (Brouwer); Flow (Corium Project); El Decameron Negro mvmt.2, pt.3 (Brouwer); El Decameron Negro mvmt.3, pt.1 (Brouwer); Mid West (Corium Project); Chants to the Sea (Corium Project)
In the video below, Wiesaur (on nylon-string Frame Works guitar), Hasenaur, and Sauli play Part 1 of the second movement of the Brouwer, which then rolls into The Valley, referenced above, and more Brouwer and Wiesaur: