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8.557038 - Guitar Recital: Dejan Ivanovic
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Dejan Ivanovic

Guitar Recital

Matilde Salvador is the widow of Vicente Asencio, who contributed a number of fine works to the guitar repertoire, a composer in her own right. Her suite Homenatge a Mistral is a tribute to the French region of Provence and to the Provençal poet Frédéric Mistral and his poem Mireio, published in 1859. Mireio is a twelve-part poem which describes the adventures of the young Mireia, daughter of a rich countryman, whose lover Vicenç is a basket-maker. They want to marry but her parents forbid it because of Vicenç’s relative poverty. Mireia then makes a pilgrimage to Santes Maries de la Mar, crosses the whole of Provence, and dies on arriving in the city of Camarga. The poem sensitively portrays the cities, people and traditions of Provence. A mistral is also a wind, plany is a lament, and a farandola is a popular dance from Provence, also danced in Catalonia. The dancers form long lines and, holding hands, move either in circles or like a snake.

The eminent Spanish composer Antón García Abril first studied at the Valencia Conservatory and later in Madrid. His musical style has elements of neo-classicism, romanticism, impressionism, and neo-nationalism, perhaps a successor to Rodrigo, but moving on from him. He has his own voice, a tonal language, if not in its traditional form. His many concertos and solo works for the guitar show a profound understanding of the instrument. The Preludios urbanos are substantial and splendid works, each nominally dedicated to a different city or, more specifically in the first two, to a person associated with it. Preludio de Paris is dedicated to Robert Vidal, the late organizer of an important international guitar competition. The dedicatee of Preludio de Atenas is the Greek guitarist Costas Cotsiolis, and Preludio de Madrid is a tribute to the city in which García Abril pursued his later studies.

Frederic Mompou, a Catalan composer, studied the piano in Barcelona and it was on hearing Marguerite Long play piano music by Fauré in 1909 that he was motivated to go to Paris, where he studied the piano and harmony. Realising that his shyness was not compatible with a career as a virtuoso pianist he devoted himself instead to composition, in which he was mainly self-taught. It is then not surprising that his music shows French influences, particularly those of Debussy and Satie. The pairing of canción y danza (song and dance) has been much loved by Spanish composers. Of Mompou’s fourteen works in this form, thirteen were for piano solo; the fourteenth was written for the guitar (1972) and dedicated to Narciso Yepes. The movements have the titles El cant dels ocells (song of the birds) and El bon caçador (the good hunter).

The musical talent of Richard Rodney Bennett emerged at an early age. He first studied with Lennox Berkeley and Howard Ferguson, and later with Pierre Boulez who did not persuade him to abandon traditional musical values in favour of the twelve-tone writing for which he had first shown a taste when he was sixteen. When he was approached by the guitarist Julian Bream, he responded with his five Impromptus (1968) and later with the Guitar Concerto (1970), for which he declared the former to have been his experimental workshop. The Sonata (1983) is, like its predecessors, a twelve-tone work but listeners should be reassured that Bennett has, mercifully, never been a serialist. Each of the movements in the Sonata begins with a tone-row but it is neither fully stated at the outset nor is it treated rigidly thereafter. The ordering of the notes is governed by expressive demands, not by the mechanical aural equivalent of painting by numbers. This is a major work and a stimulating one in every respect.

Malcolm Arnold’s two years of military service during World War II (1944-45) interrupted his early career as a trumpet player with the London and BBC Symphony Orchestras. The experience helped him to write well for all ‘standard’ instruments, as he has done in a wide variety of ‘secular’ musical media. It did not, however, prepare him to compose for the classical guitar but what his intuitive understanding may have lacked was supplied by Julian Bream, who asked him to do so. The first fruit of their collaboration was the Serenade for guitar and strings, Op. 50 (1955), followed by the Guitar Concerto, Op. 67 (1956), two works that have remained in the repertory ever since. Arnold’s music is essentially tonal, melodic in a popular sense, and energetically rhythmic. In the opening and closing movements of the Fantasy one can hear the assertive trumpeter at work. These two and the strong Fughetta frame the contrastingly lyrical and tender Ariettas, and they are linked by a common motif (successive downward steps of a tone and a tone and a half). The repetition in the final movement of other thematic material from the first emphasizes the cyclic nature of the work as a whole.

Gordon McPherson studied composition with John Paynter and David Blake at York University (1983-86, 1988-91). He is currently Head of Composition at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Study in moto perpetuo: Brevity can save the nation is from his Angel Suite, a set of four studies, partially exploring the guitar’s technical and musical capabilities. The ‘study’ element is in the restless demands on the player’s fingers. The second part of the title arose through McPherson’s conversation with a composition student who shares his interest in more overtly popular musical culture. While discussing what was happening in various clubs, and who were the new groups seeking fame both locally and in wider fields, McPherson asked how they, as composers with diverse influences, might resolve this conundrum whilst producing works for an essentially ‘classical’ audience. The student replied ironically that, given the short concentration span of ‘popular’ audiences, they might begin by writing shorter pieces. Though he did not entirely agree with the argument, McPherson was sufficiently amused by it to add the subtitle to this work, which, whether or not it displays non-classical influences, is one of the shortest pieces he has written for a long time.

The Spanish guitarist-composer Francisco Tárrega revived interest in the guitar at a time when it was declining and was the ‘father’ of the present-day instrument and its world. His Recuerdos de la Alhambra is a study in tremolo, the rapid reiteration of a single note, a device he appears to have invented. Owing to its romantic charm it has become one of the items in the entire repertory most-played and most-loved by audiences, so much so that it has been described as La Marseillaise des guitaristes (the guitarists’ national anthem). Would that all national anthems were as attractive. It serves to remind us how far guitar music has developed in the last hundred or more years and how many new but listener-friendly languages it has embraced.

John W. Duarte

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