About this Recording
8.572390 - Guitar Recital: Kulikova, Irina - PONCE, M. / TANSMAN, A. / BROUWER, L. / JOSE, A.

Irina Kulikova: Guitar Recital
Manuel Ponce (1882–1948): Sonata III (1927)
Alexandre Tansman (1897–1988):Variations on a Theme of Scriabin (1972)
Manuel Ponce (1882–1948):Sonatina Meridional (1930)
Leo Brouwer (b. 1939): Variations on a Theme of Django Reinhardt (1984)
Antonio José (1902–1936): Sonata (1933)


When Andrés Segovia began giving guitar recitals in the early twentieth century, the repertoire consisted of works written by guitarist/composers and transcriptions from the music of other instruments. Segovia soon began to request new pieces from the leading composers of his era, by this route intending to establish a worthwhile treasury of modern works appropriate for the concert hall. This was a process that has continued with increasing momentum since the 1920s.

Nowadays the guitar has a remarkable range of composers of many nationalities and styles in its service. The instrument is particularly rich in those two supreme musical forms, sonata and theme and variations. The beauty and variety of the traditions which Segovia transformed and advanced are well represented in the expressive works performed here.

Manuel Ponce was the founding father of twentieth century Mexican music. His pupil, Carlos Chávez (1899–1978) said of him: ‘It was Ponce who created a real consciousness of the richness of Mexican folk art.’ Segovia and Ponce first met in Mexico in 1923, and from that time onwards the composer devoted himself to writing many pieces for the guitar, nearly all of them dedicated to Segovia. Of these compositions, which include preludes, suites, a concerto, variations, several sonatas, and works for guitar and harpsichord, Segovia has written: ‘Large or small, they are, all of them, pure and beautiful.’

Sonata III was described by Segovia in a letter to the composer of 20 July 1927 as ‘very beautiful and a work of significance for the guitar, the artist and the musician’. The first movement, Allegro moderato, is neo-romantic in essence, beginning with a memorable but slightly austere first subject which soon softens into lyrical arpeggios and gentle chords. The development section, un poco più animato, explores textural contrasts, evolving through various tonalities until the recapitulation with its serene coda. Chanson, Andantino molto espressivo, is a beautiful ballad or folk song interspersed with a vivo episode before progressing to a modified version of the theme and a poignant finale. The last movement, Allegro non troppo in three-four time, is in rondo form, the early scale passages implying a Spanish influence. A meno mosso section returns to the tranquillity of the Chanson while a central episode presents the melodic tremolo which frames expressive lento moments. After the dynamic return of the main theme, a brief coda provides a calm ending.

The Polish composer, Alexandre Tansman, having been introduced to Andrés Segovia during his stay in Paris in 1921, was persuaded to write for the guitar. His compositions include operas, ballets, nine symphonies, concertos, film scores, vocal and chamber music and works for piano and other solo instruments. In the 1920s and 1930s he toured the United States, Europe, the Middle East and India, appearing as the soloist in his own piano concertos. He became a French citizen in 1938 but the war forced him to move to America, where he established close friendships with composers such as Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Milhaud. He returned to France in 1946.

Variations on a Theme of Scriabin (1972) was dedicated to Segovia. The theme, Scriabin’s Prelude, Op. 16, No. 4 in E flat minor (for piano), was arranged for guitar by Segovia in B minor (publ. Celesta Publishing Co., New York, 1945). This melody has a haunting quality though Tansman has at certain points re-worked the original harmonization. The composition has six variations, the first being a transference of the

theme to the bass line, with an accompaniment in the treble. Variation II, slightly faster, explores the harmonic potential of Scriabin’s melody, while Variation III is a virtuosic Vivo episode in semiquavers. Variation IV changes the tonality and explores some ingenious modulations. The fifth variation, Allegretto grazioso (quasi Mazurka), is the composer’s homage to Poland, presenting the national dance with a dash of humour and elements which evoke the music of J.S. Bach. The last variation is fugal, a contrapuntal working out of the melodic implications, which gives way to a final, slightly altered, quieter statement of the theme itself.

Ponce’s Sonatina Meridional (Sonatina of the South) was completed in Paris in December 1930. Segovia had requested the composer to write ‘a Sonatina—not Sonata—of a purely Spanish character…something as gracious as the one by Torroba and with much more musical substance’. In a further letter written in May 1932, Segovia announced that he intended to give the première of the work at the Salle Gaveau, Paris. It was published in 1939 in the Schotts Segovia Guitar Archives under the title of Sonatina Meridional with subtitles for each movement. Segovia first recorded the work for HMV in June 1949.

The first movement, Campo, suggests the atmosphere of the Iberian countryside. The slow movement’s subtitle, Copla, refers to the passionate verse of flamenco song delivered with guitar accompaniment and instrumental interludes. Fiesta has the rhythmic excitement and vitality that its name suggests.

Leo Brouwer, from Havana, Cuba, one of the most innovative contemporary composers, is also a renowned conductor and recitalist. His prolific output ranges from a multitude of guitar pieces to concertos, chamber music, and scores for over a hundred films. His guitar works have evolved over four decades embracing the avant-garde and the experimental as well as neoromanticism.

Variations on a Theme of Django Reinhardt (1984) was commissioned by Robert Vidal as a test piece for the prestigious Radio France Guitar Competition. The famous theme, Nuages, composed by the great French gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, provides the basis for a sequence of variations in twentieth century idioms. Brouwer described the work as ‘a typical set of variations similar to homages by Ferdinand Sor or any other composer of the nineteenth century (Introduction, Theme and Variations). But the difference is that each variation takes its character from the history of the variation form itself—Sarabande, Bourrée, Gigue (Baroque), Improvisation, Toccata, etc. I use only cells of significance from Reinhardt, three or four notes. I do not imitate the harmony of jazz players though I admire the beauty of their simplicity’.

Antonio José was praised by Maurice Ravel as a composer who would ‘become the greatest Spanish musician of our century’. But his arrest and execution near his home city of Burgos in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War cast his music into a subsequent obscurity which has only recently been remedied. A monograph about his life and work has been published by the municipality of Burgos.

Considerable interest was aroused by the discovery in the late 1980s of the Sonata, which Antonio José finished on 23 August 1933. One movement was given its première in Burgos by Regino Sáinz de la Maza in November 1934. The Sonata offers further perspectives on the expansion of the guitar repertoire during the early twentieth century Spanish musical renaissance. The work established Antonio José’s reputation beside those of his distinguished contemporaries who respected the guitar as an expressive medium. José’s Sonata is a composition requiring virtuosity as well as emotional depth and insight.

Graham Wade

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