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8.570191 - Guitar Recital: Michalis Kontaxakis
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Michalis Kontaxakis: Guitar Recital

 

The Mexican composer Manuel Ponce was born in 1882 in Fresnillo. In 1893 he served as a chorister in Aguascalientes and the following year became an organist. In 1901 he moved to Mexico City, studying piano and composition, followed by a period from 1904 in Bologna and then in Berlin. He returned to Mexico in 1907 to teach the piano at the Conservatorio Nacional, establishing himself as a composer, notably with the first performance of his Piano Concerto in 1912, and doing much towards the establishment of a recognisably Mexican musical identity. He served as conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra and in 1925 returned to Europe for further study with Dukas in Paris. In 1933 he returned to Mexico, appointed director of the Conservatorio Nacional. The following year he established a chair of folk-music in the School of Music of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma.

In 1923 Ponce had met the great guitarist Andrés Segovia, and their friendship bore fruit in a number of compositions for the guitar, including a concerto, Concierto del sur, chamber music, and a number of works for solo guitar, some of them pastiches, following the example of the violinist Fritz Kreisler. Sonata III was written in 1927. It follows the traditional structure of a sonata, with a D minor first movement in sonata-allegro form, its second subject marked più tranquillo ed espressivo. A livelier central development is followed by a recapitulation. The second movement, Chanson, has a gently lilting theme that is heard again after a short contrasting middle section. The last movement is a rondo, its principal theme framing episodes of contrasting mood and key.

Born in Havana in 1965, the guitarist and composer Joaquín Clerch studied the guitar and composition in his native city before continuing his studies at the Salzburg Mozarteum, where he was a guitar pupil of Eliot Fisk and worked in early music with Anthony Spiri and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, graduating there with distinction in 1991. He has won an international reputation as a guitarist and since 1999 has held a professorship of guitar at the Robert Schumann University in Düsseldorf.

Clerch's Preludios de Primavera (Preludes of Spring), homage to Francisco Tárrega, consist of seven short pieces for guitar, a tribute to a form used by Tárrega. The inspiration for the work came to the composer in April 2005 and the set of pieces was completed in July, each dedicated to a friend or a member of the composer's family. The first prelude, Primavera, slow and expressive at first, is preceded by a line from the Cuban song-writer and lyricist Silvio Rodríguez from his Mariposas (Butterflies), 'Todo lo que tocas se hace primavera' (All that you touch turns to spring), a suggestion of the Latin-American element that lies behind the pieces. Las olas de Moncofa (The Waves of Moncofa), headed by a quotation from Raúl Roa, was written in April 2005 at Moncofa on the Gulf of Valencia. Homenaje a Tchaikovsky (Homage to Tchaikovsky) reflects the Russian composer's melodic idiom, while the mood of El Adios (The Farewell) is prefigured in sad lines of farewell from a love poem by Pablo Neruda. Y sì pienso en la Habana (And if I think of Havana), written in Germany, leads to the essentially Spanish Souvenir de Granada, and the set ends with a gentle dedication to Clerch's daughter Minerva, Cuando tu no estás (When you are not here).

Of Huguenot descent, the son of a Calvinist pastor, Frank Martin was born in Geneva in 1890, returning there after periods spent in Italy and in Paris. He was associated with Jaques-Dalcroze and his theories of rhythm and movement, and he moved, eventually, with his third wife, to Holland, where he died in 1974. He won contemporary distinction as a composer and as a teacher, but in the first capacity falls into no easy category, although he eventually developed a musical language that draws, however eclectically, on Schoenberg's serial technique. His Quatre pièces brèves (Four Short Pieces) for guitar were written in 1933 for Segovia, who was seemingly not pleased with music so alien to his style and apparently lost his copy of the work. There were various manuscripts of the pieces and the guitar version was revised in 1955, after earlier additional arrangements for piano and for orchestra. The present version follows a copy that Martin gave to the Zurich guitarist Hermann Leeb in 1938, and the manuscript includes a modest note from the composer to Leeb, asking whether any changes are needed. In his reply Leeb expressed his satisfaction with the work and the hope that greater familiarity with the guitar might lead to other compositions. The first piece, Prélude, opens with a slow introductory passage, leading to passages of greater rapidity, with a short rhythmic and melodic figure predominating in a structure that draws on elements of serialism. The Air, marked Lent et bien rhythmé, is neo-classical in mood, leading to the third piece, Plainte, with its Spanish-tinged melody in the upper part, accompanied by chords characteristic of the composer. The work ends with Comme une Gigue (Like a Gigue), which returns to the tonality and something of the angularity of the first piece, while providing contrast in its central section.

Ernst Krenek was born in Vienna and became a pupil of Franz Schreker at the Vienna Music Academy, following his teacher in 1920 to the Berlin Musikhochschule, where his musical style began to develop in other directions. His compositions of the 1920s won him a reputation as an enfant terrible, bringing international success with his jazz opera Jonny spielt auf, and in the 1930s a change to serial composition, notably in the opera Karl V, withdrawn through political intrigue from a planned staging in Vienna in 1934. His opposition to National Socialism and the Anschluss led him to emigrate in 1938 to America, where he enjoyed a career of distinction as a teacher and as a prolific composer, exploring the possibilities of serialism and other contemporary techniques of composition.

Krenek's Suite for guitar was written in 1957 and dedicated to the guitarist, teacher and composer Theodore Norman. The five short movements are based on a single series of twelve notes, audibly so, with the due octave displacements. The second and fourth slower movements form a contrast with the faster first, third and fifth.

For aficionados of the guitar Francisco Tárrega needs no introduction. He was an important figure in the revival of serious interest in the guitar in the second half of the nineteenth century, winning an international reputation as 'the Sarasate of the guitar' and exercising influence through his compositions, transcriptions and teaching. Verdi's opera La traviata, based on the play by Alexandre Dumas, La dame aux camélias, was first performed in Venice in 1853. The Fantasía on themes from the opera, attributed by some to Tárrega's teacher, Julian Arcas, or an even earlier prototype, follows the convention of such pieces, with well-known melodies from the opera, presented in a musical rather than a dramatic order, ending with arias and duets from the first act, where Violetta, the courtesan of the title, and the young Alfredo fall in love. The mazurka ¡Marieta! and the gavotte Maria, the latter dedicated to the mandolin-player Baldomero Cateura, are characteristic of Tárrega's idiomatic writing for the guitar.

The versatile and prolific Soviet Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian's A minor Prelude is a short piece of deceptive simplicity and great charm, an apt conclusion to a virtuoso recital.

Keith Anderson


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