This week’s Pick is a lovely little piece by American composer/guitarist Louis Valentine Johnson called Valentine Waltz. It is wonderfully played here by the young Polish guitarist Aleksandra Sapok, who has performed and been in competitions around Europe and Asia and currently is a student at the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw.
And look below for a review of Johnson’s latest album, featuring him playing with a string quartet! —Blair Jackson
REVIEW BY TIM PANTING
Peace Louis Valentine Johnson (guitar) & the Dos Almas String Quartet (Dos Almas)
Dos Almas DA2019
From my last batch of CDs for review, this one really came as a musical surprise. A good surprise of course! The guitar with a string quartet is a most satisfying musical balancing act, where the guitar can hold its own if the circumstances are right, and here they most certainly are.
All the artists are new to me. Mark A. Radice (Dr.) from the Ithaca College School of Music, New York, has composed a vibrant piece of Baroque proportions which gives Louis Valentine Johnson‘s guitar lots of space to cavort with its bowed companions. The movements flow seamlessly, all the while making sure the guitarist coaxes his instrument with every possible technical flourish imaginable.
The Sor study No. 22, Op. 35, which is a beloved piece known by almost every classical guitarist under the sun, is given a most interesting treatment here. Positively romantic, the guitaristic approach—a little raspy in places—is pitted wittily against the strings with delightful pizzicato exchanges. The use of rubato gives the piece a new elasticity that’s quite delightful.
Johnson’s Peace Concerto (arranged for string quartet by NYC pianist Cullan Bryant), was written in response to a personal tragedy—the death of the composer’s son Alexander, aged 21. In three movements—”Portraits,” “The Song of Peace,” and “The Question”—The Peace Concerto would, I imagine, be a heftily emotional work to perform for the composer/soloist. But also must be uplifting, especially with the supportive gestures of the string quartet. Knowing the inspiration of the piece is obviously enlightening, but to echo a comment from an earlier CG review by Blair Jackson of Johnson’s solo guitar version of the concerto (on an album called 21 Years) even if you didn’t, you’d still find it a work of great solace.
This is a CD that defies categorization—bustling with sumptuous music invention and spirited playing and well worth checking out.
Toccata, Evocation & Fandango (Mark A. Radice); Allegretto in B Minor, Op. 35, No. 22 (Segovia Study No. 5 / Fernando Sor); The Peace Concerto (Louis Valentine Johnson)