About this Recording
8.573026 - Guitar Recital: Bulat, Srdjan - RODRIGO, J. / REGONDI, G. / TARREGA, F. / SULEK, S. / ALBENIZ, I. / BRITTEN, B.

Srdjan Bulat: Guitar Recital


This selection moves from high romanticism through neo-romanticism to the centrepiece of the twentieth-century guitar, Britten’s progressive and revolutionary Nocturnal after John Dowland, Op 70. Spanish impressionism is represented by a transcription of Albéniz’s exquisite descriptive miniature while Rodrigo’s art creates a poem in sound dedicated to the gardens of the Alhambra Palace in Granada. The sonorities of the guitar unite these diverse musical concepts with no sense of incongruity or paradox. The instrument’s versatile voice encompasses moods from any nation while its lyrical songs and variety of tone colours evoke every shade of feeling from the melancholy to the festive.

Joaquín Rodrigo is acknowledged as one of the great Spanish composers of the twentieth century. Though blind from infancy he wrote almost two hundred works, including orchestral, choral and ballet music, many concertos, a host of songs, and a quantity of instrumental music. The composer’s contribution to the guitar is now appreciated as one of the central pillars of the concert repertoire. Over the years Rodrigo explored the Spanish nature of the guitar, responding to the distinguished history of plucked instruments going back to the sixteenth century. His achievement remains a significant aspect of the guitar’s development since the 1940s.

Junto al Generalife (Close by the Generalife), written in 1955, was dedicated to the eminent German guitarist, Siegfried Behrend. The Generalife was the pleasure palace, with beautiful gardens, of the former kings of Granada, its name derived from the Arabic, Gennat-Alarif—‘the gardens of the architect’. Situated on the slopes of the Cerro del Sol, the Generalife overlooks the city. The composition is in two parts, a gentle introduction with fast scale passages in quasi-improvisatory style, and an Allegro, reminiscent of the malagueña. The middle section consists of the melodic tremolo, recalling the themes of the granadinas, the flamenco form originating among the gypsies of Granada. The final pages present the recapitulation and a coda which includes passages of fiery descending triplets.

Giulio Regondi was an infant prodigy of the guitar who matured into an eminent artist and esteemed composer of poetic but challenging works. Born in the French city of Lyon, Regondi made his début in Paris by the age of seven, becoming known as ‘The Infant Paganini’. In 1831 he arrived with his father in London, which was to be his home for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, in a somewhat mysterious episode, his father absconded with his son’s earnings, leaving the boy dependent on the good will of strangers. In his mature years, however, Regondi continued triumphantly to give concerts throughout Europe, becoming also a virtuoso of the concertina. He died of cancer in London in 1872 and is buried there in St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Kensal.

Regondi’s achievements were lost to posterity for decades, but his compositions were eventually rediscovered, edited by Simon Wynberg and published by Chanterelle in 1981. A complete edition of the Ten Etudes did not appear, however, until the 1990s when the American scholar Matanya Ophee discovered the entire set in Russia and published them.

Etude No 8 is a beautifully lyrical study, uniting fragments of arpeggios with brief scale passages, some of the latter being delightfully chromatic. A middle section offers contrasting arpeggio patterns and sweet melodic lines over Alberti type basses before a return to the first section followed by a brief coda.

Francisco Tárrega was a leading personality of immense significance in the guitar’s development over the last two centuries, in terms of technical innovations, compositions, and the art of arrangement. His advocacy of 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 time. 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 remarkable music for the instrument, meticulously indicating the precise placing of notes on the fingerboard to produce the most vibrant effects. In many exquisite miniatures, often influenced by Chopin, he established a Spanish romantic voice for the guitar which has enchanted public and players ever since.

Karl Scheit, the editor for the Universal Edition of Tárrega’s Complete Preludes in the 1960s, described these pieces as ‘among his most characteristic works…musical sketches whose purpose is to bring the players into closer relationship with the guitar by means of ingenious fingering and compositional simplicity’. Prelude No 1 is one of Tárrega’s lyrical poems for the guitar, a brief song to be enjoyed. Endecha (Lament) is characteristic of Tárrega’s poetic style with elegant harmonies while Oremus (Let us pray), an elegiac prelude written on 30 November 1909, fifteen days before Tárrega’s death, echoes a plaintive theme from Schumann’s Opus 99.

Tárrega was fond of depicting his female relatives in concise musical portraits, hence the popularity of pieces such as Adelita, María, Marieta, and Pepita. Thus Rosita refers to María Rosalia, the composer’s second daughter born on 13 September 1885. Here the girl’s characteristic vivaciousness is revealed through a skittish polka, portraying a mercurial individual, constantly on the move.

Capricho arabe (Arab Caprice), dedicated to ‘the eminent maestro, D. Tomás Breton’, is a tribute to the Moorish heritage of southern Spain. Its opening recalls the oud, the Arabic lute, while the steady rhythm which follows evokes the sensuous Danza mora, the traditional dance. Segovia in his autobiography observed how during his youth Capricho arabe was ‘the pièce de résistance of my repertoire and one especially suited to reach the sensitive chords of a feminine heart’.

Stjepan Šulek, born in Zagreb, Croatia, was composer, conductor and violinist. He was appointed professor of violin at the Zagreb Academy of Music and became professor of composition there two years later. His prolific output includes eight symphonies, a cycle of five string quartets, several concertos, and a quantity of vocal and chamber music, as well as solo instrumental works.

The Troubadours Three, composed for the Croatian guitarist Darko Petrinjak, offers three movements written in a lyrical neo-romantic style. The first, Melancholy, contains elements of Spanish influence as well as quotations from Bach, along with gently introspective sections. Sonnet begins in a song like mood which leads on to a more playful, skittish episode. Towards the end a new theme emerges with light accompaniment. The final bars use subtle harmonics in a calm resolution. Celebration begins with vigorous strummed chords which give way to quieter explorative moments. But ultimately the festive mood, reminiscent of the last movement of Manuel Ponce’s Sonatina Meridional, triumphs.

Isaac Albéniz was born in Camprodón, in northern Spain, spending much of his childhood in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia. Yet though Catalan by birth his celebration of the great cities of Andalusia remains a perennial evocation of Iberian romanticism. Albéniz composed mainly for piano, writing nothing directly for the guitar, but ever since Tárrega first transcribed some of his pieces, Albéniz’s music has remained at the very heart of the guitar repertoire.

Mallorca was composed in London in 1890 and the score was published there the following year. The piece is in the genre of the barcarolle, and portrays the beautiful island in the maritime and pastoral serenity that Chopin encountered when he spent some time there.

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.

Graham Wade

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