About this Recording
8.572630 - Guitar Recital: Csáki, András - BACH, J.S. / BRITTEN, B. / DUARTE, J.W. / CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.

András Csáki: Guitar Recital


The classical guitar’s utter versatility and protean colours permit its devoted performers to present within a single recital a wide historical and expressive range without interpretative incongruity. Following the gloriously infinite inventiveness of J.S. Bach’s Partita in E major, the twentieth century is represented here by Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s great Sonata, Op. 77, one of the most substantial and durable compositions of the modern repertoire, and the astoundingly avant-garde revelation (at the time) of Britten’s Nocturnal after John Dowland, Op. 70, a work which truly changed the instrument’s landscape in radical terms. Between these two polarities comes a lighter work, Duarte’s Variations on a Catalan Folk Song, Op. 25, which looks in both directions, backwards to the splendour of Catalan folk music, and gently towards the contemporary harmonic trends of its time.

Such a variety of texture and mood, tonality and epoch, can be integrated within a single recital because the guitar easily reconciles so many contrasts within its essential characteristics. Segovia was fond of describing the guitar as ‘a miniature orchestra’, admiring its synthesis of timbres, styles, colours, polyphony, evocations, and echoes. With such a rich palette of rainbow choices, it is no wonder that the guitar’s popularity in the recital hall goes from strength to strength.

The tradition of performing the music of J.S. Bach on guitar was first established by the nineteenth-century master, Francisco Tárrega (1852–1909), continued by Andrés Segovia (1893–1987), and developed by later generations of recitalists. Nowadays Bach’s genius is an integral aspect of the guitarist’s landscape, incorporating transcriptions from works for violin, cello, and keyboard, with acknowledgements also to the lute tradition of the eighteenth century.

In 1921 Dr Hans Dagobert Bruger published his edition of Bach’s ‘lute suites’, allotting numbers to each suite, thus bringing in the slightly inaccurate concept as if Bach himself had organized the composition of these suites in a deliberate order. In Bruger’s scheme of things, the Partita in E major was designated as Lute Suite IV, and for various reasons has long been regarded by guitarists as perhaps the most technically challenging of the so-called ‘lute suites’.

The instrumentation of the autograph copy, now in Tokyo, is not explicitly stated. Wolfgang Schmieder, the eminent scholar and author of the Bach catalogue, the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV), even wondered if it was intended for harp, though it could be for keyboard, baroque lute or even lute-harpsichord, a keyboard instrument strung with gut to imitate lute timbres. In the Staatsbibliothek Berlin-Dahlem are two eighteenth century copies and an autograph copy in a violin version. J.S. Bach twice orchestrated the Prélude as part of Cantatas, BWV 120A and BWV 29.

It is clear that in the eighteenth century composers were accustomed to making arrangements of specific pieces for a wide range of instruments. For that reason it is not surprising that this particular suite is very idiomatic to the technical and expressive qualities of the modern classical guitar. The first movement, Prélude, consists of broken chords and bariolage (lit. ‘medley of colours’) string passages in perpetual motion, creating textures reminiscent of the lute preludes of Sylvius Leopold Weiss, the great eighteenth century master of the baroque lute, personally well acquainted with Bach himself.

The Loure is both a reference to a kind of bagpipe and a dance in six/four time. It is characterised by acute dotted rhythms appropriate to the dancer’s lively steps, with many intricate movements being performed within each measure. The genre is often considered as a ‘slow gigue’. In contrast the Gavotte en Rondeau, first made famous on the guitar by Segovia’s recording of 2 May 1927, presents straightforward dance rhythms and strong melodic lines.

Menuett I and II offer a sophisticated courtly dance of French origin, the second of these starting with a drone in musette style. The Bourrée is an energetic and vigorous dance, close to the earth and of definite folk origins.

The finale, Gigue, is distinct from the French dotted version of the form, and belongs to the type which exploits a duple rhythm effect. It is the shortest of all Bach’s Gigues, a vivacious and exuberant display in which the rhythmic drive is made virtuosic by much intricate passage work and a precise harmonic accompaniment which the guitar is well suited to articulating.

Completed in 1963, Nocturnal after John Dowland, Op. 70, by Benjamin Britten, the greatest English composer of the mid-twentieth century, was soon acknowledged as one of the most significant and original compositions in the history of the guitar. Dedicated to Julian Bream, it unites the contemporary world of dissonance and strangeness with the Elizabethan concepts of deep emotion and melancholy. Though written for the guitar, at Julian Bream’s request, the work also pays homage to the dedicatee’s affinities with the lute of John Dowland whose music Bream took to international audiences, demonstrating its eternal depths, uniqueness, and relevance.

The composition is a set of eight variations with the theme, Dowland’s song Come, heavy Sleep appearing at the very end:

Come, heavy Sleep, the image of true Death,
And close up these my weary weeping eyes,
Whose spring of tears doth stop my vital breath,
And tears my heart with Sorrow’s sigh-swoll’n cries.
Come and possess my tired thought-worn soul,
That living dies, till thou on me be stole.

The Nocturnal is an exploration of the many moods of sleep, passing through states of intense agitation and disquiet, leading towards the final statement of melancholy serenity which resolves all tensions.

The work was first performed by Julian Bream at Aldeburgh on 12 June 1964, and recorded soon afterwards, bringing about a virtual re-orientation of the guitar’s repertoire and expressive capabilities.

John W. Duarte was a prolific composer for the guitar, as well being a critic, teacher, and an authority on the instrument and its players. Variations on a Catalan Folk Song. Op. 25, written in 1956, were inspired by John Williams’s comment (when performing incidental music in a small theatre production of Lorca’s Yerma), that the Catalan folk-song, Canço del lladre (The Robber’s Song), harmonised by Miguel Llobet, would make a good theme for variations. The composer described the structure of the variations:

Variation I (key of D): Built from a rhythmic variant of the opening of the melody, and upon the original harmonies contrasted with distant relations.

Variation II (E): Grows out of a characteristic curving fragment of the melody, together with its inversion and diminution.

Variation III (F sharp): Skittish and difficult; a fragment of the melody recurs in skipping octaves.

Variation IV (F): Rich variants of the original harmonies alternate with a sequential derivative of part of the melody.

Variation V (E minor): Grows out of the same melodic fragment as that used in Variation IV. This bravura terminates firmly with a Tierce de Picardie completing a modal cadence.

Variation VI (A): A Minuet, built on a redistribution of the original harmonies and having its melody entirely in octave harmonics.

Finale (VII) (D): The strongly rhythmic but severe theme with which it opens is interwoven with an obvious variant of the opening of the theme, giving ample scope for technical brilliance. The final section is in tremolando, over all six strings, and consists of the theme set over a pedal.

In 1932 Andrés Segovia travelled with Manuel de Falla to the International Festival of Music in Venice. At the Festival, Segovia was introduced to Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, the great Italian composer from Florence. Castelnuovo-Tedesco became enchanted and fascinated by the guitar and decided to explore its possibilities.

Between 1932 and his death in 1968 he wrote over a hundred works for the instrument, including sets of variations, concertos, duos, chamber music including the guitar, impressionistic pieces of various kinds, and, among his finest solo compositions, the Sonata, Op. 77, ‘Omaggio a Boccherini’, written at Segovia’s request in 1934 for ‘a Sonata in four movements’.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco described this work as follows: ‘The Sonata is in four movements, but it is mainly in the first movement, Allegro con spirito, and in the Minuetto, that one can find the graciousness which was so characteristic of Boccherini. The Andantino, quasi canzone, on the other hand, refers to Boccherini’s ‘romantic’ mood, while the Finale: Vivo ed energico, highlights the bravura elements always present in his music.’

Graham Wade

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