About this Recording
8.572064 - Guitar Recital: Aguirre, Rafael - SOR, F. / IBERT, F. / POULENC, F. / OHANA, M. / RAUTAVAARA, E. / VILLA-LOBOS, H. / CLERCH, J. / TARREGA, F.
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Rafael Aguirre Min˜ arro: Guitar Recital

Fernando Sor (1778-1839): Fantaisie, Op. 16
Jacques Ibert (1890-1962): Ariette • Française
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963): Sarabande
Maurice Ohana (1913-1992): Tiento
Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928): Partita
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959): Etudes No. 7 and 12
Joaquín Clerch (b. 1965): Sentimiento • Yemaya • Estudio de escalas
Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909):
Variations on ‘Carnival of Venice’


The scope of the pieces played here is truly cosmopolitan, as well as historical, covering music from the early nineteenth century up to the present time. The composers featured have their roots in Spanish, French, Cuban, and Brazilian nationalities but are united in their love of the classical guitar. Many ways of approaching this complex instrument are represented here ranging from the simplicity of Poulenc’s Sarabande to the exuberant virtuosity of Villa-Lobos and Tárrega. In the music of Clerch we hear the truly contemporary voice of the twenty-first century expressed through the guitar while Sor is the great pioneer of early extended concert pieces performed on smaller guitars than is customary today. Yet despite this diversity, there is also much that these composers have in common such as their love of the singing voice of the guitar, their delight in the timbres of plucked chords and their enthusiasm for the many varied musical effects characteristic of such a beautiful instrument. Performed by a young artist of tremendous ability, this is a remarkable concert of both interpretative profundity and thrilling dexterity.

Fernando Sor has a significant rôle in musical history. Following the eighteenth century neglect of the guitar, he set out to establish a new repertoire, aspiring to emulate the great composers of his epoch such as Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, by writing sonatas, fantasias, and sets of variations, as well as studies and songs. Born in Catalonia, Sor was educated at the choir school of Montserrat before attending a military academy. After Napoleon’s invasion of Spain, he became sympathetic to French ideals and settled in Paris in 1813. He also lived for a while in London (1815- 1823), becoming a musical celebrity there, but having fallen in love with a ballerina, he travelled with her to Russia and Poland. He returned to Paris in 1826/7 where he composed many pieces in his final years.

Fifth Fantasia, Op. 16, for the guitar with Variations on Paisiello’s ‘Nel cor più non mi sento’, was first published in 1823. The work opens with an Introduction in 6/8 time marked Andante largo, written in Sor’s grand ‘orchestral’ style. Then comes the theme itself, Andantino cantabile, originally from the opera La Molinara by Giovanni Paisiello (1741-1816), with words by Giuseppe Palomba (fl.1769-1825):

Nel cor più non mi sento brillar la gioventù;
Cagion del mio tormento, amor, sei colpa tu.
Mi pizzichi, mi stuzzichi, mi pungichi, mi mastichi;
Che cosa è, questo ahimè? Pietà, pietà, pietà!
Amore è un certo che, che disperar mi fa.

(No longer do I feel youth’s fire in my heart,
The cause of my torment, dear love, is you!
You sting me, push me, pinch me, chew me,
Alas, what is this thing? Pity, pity, pity!
Dear love, it is sure you cause me despair.)

This theme had been immortalised when Beethoven wrote two sets of variations on it in 1795, one of which has become a favourite work studied by young pianists. Sor (perhaps in homage to the great Viennese master), also wrote nine variations. The nine sections cover the range of guitar techniques exploited by Sor, including arpeggios (Var.1) studies in thirds and fast scalic sections (Var. 2), chromatic movement (Var. 3), while Var. 4 offers contrasts between full chords and delicate harmonics. Var. 5 presents fast chords in intervals of fifths and sixths, while the minor mood is expressively created in Var. 6. The next variation involves rapid repeated notes in virtuosic mode. Var. 8 is a real surprise – marked ‘for the left hand only’, a true innovation. The Finale features brilliant arpeggios and a coda with rapid chords, occasional harmonics, and a rousing climax.

Jacques Ibert, a French composer born in Paris, wrote a number of operas, ballets, and film scores, as well as orchestral, vocal and chamber music and some thirty instrumental pieces. Ibert became well known for Entracte for flute/violin and guitar (1935) but also wrote two guitar solos, Ariette (1935) and Française (1926). The first of these, a serenely lyrical composition, derives its melodic inspiration and delicate harmonies from Spain. Française, in contrast, is a virtuosic composition with a startlingly original guitaristic style. This lively dance with roots in folk-music in 2/8 time begins with rapid triplets interspersed with linking scalic passages. A middle section offers ingenious harmonic modulations, intricate cross rhythms and short bursts of melody, leading to a reprise of the first section and a vigorous coda.

Francis Poulenc, also from Paris, was a powerful force in twentieth-century French music, creating not only a variety of operas, ballets, film scores and incidental music, but also a quantity of orchestral and choral works, including many songs and piano pieces. Of his dozens of works, only this Sarabande, written in New York in March 1960 and dedicated to Ida Presti, is for guitar. Though Poulenc was writing for one of the most technically brilliant performers of guitar history, he eschewed virtuosity on this occasion and produced an expressive work marked Molto calmo e melanconico. From the opening eight-note single line melody in 5/4 time, answered by a lightly harmonized response, the piece proceeds by gentle statement and repetition to build an almost hypnotic effect through theme and rhythm. The opening motif returns towards the end, proceeding with slight modifications to a final two note chord, rounded off by the playing of the six open strings of the guitar.

Maurice Ohana, born in 1913 of Gibraltarian parentage in Casablanca, North Africa, spent his childhood in Bayonne, France, and later studied in Paris. He also took lessons in Barcelona with the distinguished pianist Frank Marshall and gave his piano recital début in Paris in 1936. He was fascinated by flamenco, African tribal music and medieval music as well as being strongly influenced by the works of Debussy and Falla. The tiento was originally the Spanish musicians’ version of the toccata though it was of a more inward and reflective nature than the showy brilliance of the flamenco style. (Tientos is also a flamenco form of a serious character.) Ohana’s Tiento is a work of Spanish allegiance set in a modern idiom. It falls into definite sections opening with a statement of La Folía (the melody much loved by composers over the centuries, especially as a basis for variations). This leads into the habanera rhythm and melodic line reminiscent of Falla’s Homenaje. A third section hints at a theme from Falla’s Harpsichord Concerto. These ideas are skilfully woven together and the work ends on what might be called a dominant pedal point with an insistent drum-like beat.

Einojuhani Rautavaara, the most renowned Finnish composer of his generation, studied musicology at Helsinki University and composition at the Sibelius Academy with Aare Merikanto. Later he went to the United States to study with Copland, Persichetti and Sessions, eventually taking up various teaching appointments at the Sibelius Academy. His compositions include many stage works, eight symphonies, several concertos, and a quantity of orchestral, choral and chamber music, as well as songs and instrumental works. Other pieces for guitar are Serenades of the Unicorn (1977) and Monologues of the Unicorn (1980). Partita, in three short movements, begins with a brilliant burst of arpeggios like a parody of a nineteenth-century guitar study, though here harmonically well rooted in the twentieth century. After this burst of energy, the section concludes with parallel chords up and down the frets, the last being an A major chord with sharpened seventh. The second movement begins with a bass melody against open strings, followed by a change to the guitar’s treble voices. This pattern is then reiterated, moving on to a section which utilises the highest notes on the fingerboard, rounded off by gently enigmatic chords. The final movement offers a vigorous disturbing dance with shifting time signatures (6/8 to 5/8, etc.). A theme on the top string harmonized in parallel fourths is contrasted with lively pedal basses, there are echoes of the second movement (a bass motif against open strings), and half way through comes a reprise of the second theme with repeated basses (written on two staves for clarity). The work ends with anguished dissonant chords in an off-beat 5/8 rhythm, the customary tranquillity of open strings being finally disrupted and darkened by a single alien note of the raised seventh.

The vast musical output of Heitor Villa-Lobos covers a huge canvas of symphonies, concertos, choral and chamber music, as well as many instrumental works. Through his art the vitality of Brazilian culture found full twentieth-century expression. Yet it is his guitar music which still attracts fervent popularity. His deep understanding of the instrument enabled the composer to write in a truly distinctive personal style creating beautiful melodies as well as the effects of tonal colours of open strings against fretted notes to develop fascinating patterns of shifting chords. Twelve Études, written in Paris in the late 1920s and dedicated to Andrés Segovia, are a remarkable landmark in twentieth-century guitar development, though they were not published until the 1950s. Segovia commented that these studies ‘consist of formulas of surprising efficiency for the technical development of each hand, and at the same time have a ‘disinterested’ musical beauty, without an educational aim, but with a permanent aesthetic value as concert pieces...Villa- Lobos has made a gift to the guitar’s history of the fruits of his talent as vigorous and delightful as that of Scarlatti and Chopin’. Etude No. 7 has been described by Turibio Santos, the great Brazilian guitarist, as ‘ a study in virtuosity par excellence’. The study has four sections beginning with an episode of rapid descending scale passages, followed by a highly expresssive melody and accompanying arpeggio section of poetic intensity. After the reprise of the first section, rhythmic parallel chords concluded by complex trills propel the composition towards a dramatic ending. Etude No. 12 is a study of glissando applied throughout the fingerboard to parallel chords. A middle contrasting episode presents an exciting repeated bass effect before the return of the first section. This is acknowledged as one of the most technically challenging of the twelve, requiring pinpoint precision and perfect control to achieve the necessary articulation.

Joaquín Clerch, composer and concert guitarist, was born in 1965 in Havana and studied with several teachers in his formative years including Leo Brouwer and Costas Cotsiolis. Later he moved to Salzburg to have lessons with Eliot Fisk, graduating with the highest honours. He has made a number of recordings and his compositions are increasingly popular among recitalists. Sentimiento, like Poulenc’s Sarabande, develops from a cryptic opening statement of a handful of notes. This theme, in modified versions, is lightly harmonized but returns hauntingly like an echo throughout the work, its hypnotic repetitions becoming more poignant as the piece progresses, eventually fading gently away. Yemaya, written in 1987, was awarded first prize that year in both the National Cuban Composition Competition and the Toronto International Guitar Competition. The title Yemaya refers to a deity worshipped as goddess and earth mother in the Afro- Cuban Yoruba religion. The seven short sections of the music represent her various characteristics from the gentle opening of La Leyenda through lyricism, turbulence, introspection and outbursts of frenetic energy, leading to a calmly resolved conclusion. Joaquín Clerch has written a number of studies devoted to specific aspects of technique such as chords, slurs, arpeggios, etc. Estudio de escalas is a thorough analysis of scale playing on the guitar. The study begins with a flamenco-like contrast between strummed chords and scale passages, the latter becoming ever faster and more brilliant in improvisatory style, but reflective elements reminiscent of Piazzolla also play a part. The work ends with a brief reference to Villa-Lobos’s Etude No. 7.

Historically Francisco Tárrega is of immense significance in the development of the guitar over the last two centuries, in terms of both technical innovations and compositions. His advocacy of the new concepts of guitar construction embodied in the work of Antonio de Torres (1817-1892), the great Spanish luthier, has proved influential right up to the present day. Working with the Torres type of instrument (with its enhanced tonal qualities, fan strutting, and a 650 millimetre string length), Tárrega established teaching methods including the most practical way of holding the guitar (using a footstool to raise the left leg), principles of left and right hand techniques, and studies to develop a player’s skills. Furthermore, Tárrega composed some superb music for the instrument, meticulously indicating the precise placing of notes on the fingerboard to produce the most expressive effects. In these little masterpieces, often influenced by Chopin, he established a Spanish romantic voice for the guitar which has enchanted public and players ever since. Though he did not write a guitar tutor, his methods were propagated through his many students. Among these, Emilio Pujol (1886-1980) and Pascual Roch (1860-1921) wrote down his principles of pedagogy in volumes still in use today. Tárrega was also the first great arranger for guitar, transcribing works from composers such as J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Berlioz, Chopin, Grieg, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, and Wagner, as well as pieces from Albéniz and Malats and other Spanish contemporaries. Carnival of Venice is the title of various compositions based on a melody which Paganini heard in Venice at the beginning of the nineteenth century and made famous by performing it frequently. Massé’s opera La Reine Topaze (1856) used the theme as a vocal air with variations and Ambroise Thomas’s opera Le Carnaval de Venise (1857) based the overture on the same motif. The violinist, Heinrich Ernst (1814-1865) also wrote a Carnival of Venice modelled on Paganini’s example and compositions under the same name by Shulhoff for violin, Herz for piano and Bottesini for double bass gained popularity at various times. Tárrega’s Carnival of Venice can thus be viewed within its traditional context. The work begins with strong octaves and sweeping downward arpeggios before a short Andantino section in Mendelssohnian mood prepares us for the main theme, the imminent entry of which is announced by a passage of descending demisemiquavers. The principal melody, written in 6/8, is a Venetian barcarole, and the first variation impresses the song more clearly on the listener. Then follow a number of variations (not always performed in the same order as the printed score), deploying almost every technical device known to the guitar. These include rapid ligados, arpeggios, tremolo, glissandi, harmonics, and cantabile variations. Sometimes both the theme and its variations have been misinterpreted by the critics – this work is no pompous rhetorical statement but a lighthearted and witty demonstration of virtuosity, tongue in cheek, and an utterly delightful collaboration between artist and audience.

Graham Wade

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