About this Recording
8.574117 - OURKOUZOUNOV, A.: Guitar Sonatas Nos. 1–5 (Cycling Modes) (Tosidis)

Atanas Ourkouzounov (b. 1970)
Cycling Modes


Atanas Ourkouzounov is a foremost contemporary Bulgarian composer and guitarist. He grew up in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he began guitar studies with Dimitar Doitchinov. He continued his studies in Paris in 1992 with Arnaud Dumond, Alexandre Lagoya, and Olivier Chassain. In 1997 he graduated from the Paris Conservatoire and was awarded First Prize in guitar.

As a composer he has won many international awards, and has written over 80 works for guitar including solos, duos, quartets, instrumental ensembles, and two concertos. A large proportion of these have been published by Doberman-Yppan, Productions d’OZ, and Henry Lemoine. His works have been performed and recorded by leading guitarists from many countries.

Atanas Ourkouzounov has made a number of recordings himself and played concerts worldwide in Europe, the US and Japan, including recitals with the Japanese flautist Mie Ogura. He also teaches at the Conservatoire Maurice Ravel, Paris.

The composer has provided a short introduction to the works selected for this recording:

The five Sonatas presented here can be divided into two groups: the First and Second Sonatas, (composed between 1996 and 1998) and three Sonatas composed between 2014 and 2018. All the compositions show a clear influence of Balkan music in general, and more specifically Bulgarian traditional music. The musical language is mainly polymodal, with frequent use of asymmetric rhythm patterns.

The two first Sonatas were composed during my years at the conservatory—I played the First Sonata at my final exam. This piece was dedicated to Pablo Márquez, who inspired and advised me during its composition.

The Second Sonata shows the influence of Bartók’s music. At the beginning we can hear a chordal quotation from Piano Concerto No. 1 by the Hungarian composer.

The following Sonatas were developed in a more complex and personal style. The polymodal and polyrhythmical elements persist, as the Balkan inspiration, but the use of cyclical rhythm repetition becomes rare and modes are treated in a more complex way, often with a serial approach.

Throughout all my music, particular sound techniques such as pizzicato, tapping, percussion, etc., are often employed in order to recreate a soundscape texture that echoes the sound of traditional musical sources. Sonata No. 4 is dedicated to Kostas Tosidis, who was the origin of this recording project.

Sonata No. 1 is dedicated to the Argentinian guitarist Pablo Márquez. The work begins with fiery pizzicati and brilliant momentum with a time signature of 7/8 characteristic of Bulgarian dances. The textures include effects of drumming on the front of the guitar. An expressive adagio episode provides moments of relaxation of the tension, though increasing in excitement until a brief burst of energy for the final bars. The second movement, Adagio quasi canzone (‘Slow like a song’) is a compact statement with great emphasis in the first instance on the sonorities of the lower strings. The third movement, Vivo, is a virtuosic tour de force, with shifting time signatures (from 7/8 to 9/8 and 3/4), contrapuntal sections, and for the finale, vivid ornamentation and further percussive effects.

Sonata No. 2 ‘Hommage à Bartók’ opens Allegro moderato, ritmico with extended staccato chords which punctuate the opening theme. The middle part of this movement is darkly expressive as it explores the implications of the opening melodic statements with many answering voices and a general harmonic complexity. The second movement, Scherzo, begins in 5/8 at frantic tempo before developing into fragments of pizzicato and sudden moments of adagio leading us to the inner world of contemplation before the resumption of the enigmatic perpetual motion. The coda is a statement of considerable technical originality with trills, drum effects and tremolo effects. The Interlude which follows takes us into an interior world of delicate sensibility, with gentle touches of expressive sonorities throughout. From here the music moves abruptly into the Toccata where rapid melodic themes are supported or contrasted against a complex bass line, once again with rapidly changing time signatures.

Sonata No. 3, dedicated to the Croatian guitarist Zoran Dukić, is subtitled ‘Cycling Modes’. The composition opens Vivo with statements of the modes chosen, each being punctuated with a harmonic. After the opening statement a middle section, marked Poco rubato, offers complete contrast with chordal interludes. The movement ends with a virtuosic Vivo of gathering intensity before a gentle coda. A slow movement follows, opening with chords in harmonics separated by tiny filigrees of rapid arpeggios. This evolves to sinister fourths in triplets followed by a Capriccioso pesante episode and further alternate interludes varying from agitato to calmo, lontano. The final movement, Presto nervoso, is a dazzlingly energetic exploration of perpetual motion in 10/16 time, alleviated by calmer moments of poco rubato. After the outburst of energy and intensity a slow coda provides resolution and calm.

Sonata No. 4, written in 2016, is dedicated to Kostas Tosidis. After a poco rubato opening, the music launches into Allegro con spirito, the time signature changing at significant points from 7/8 to 9/8, and back again. This develops into a Più lento section of quiet expressiveness before later exploding into great agitation with the return of Allegro con spirito. The final pages bring in huge chords of quasi-orchestral magnitude. The second movement, Lamentoso, once more has shifting time signatures. The Sonata takes on a tragic expressiveness at this time with complex harmonies and contrapuntal effects between treble and bass, punctuated by sad harmonics. The final movement, Allegro inquieto, once more explores perpetual motion with treble chords contrasted against the harmonic bass line. A sombre middle episode returns us to the contemplative and the profound before a scherzando section leads back into a recapitulation of the Allegro inquieto atmosphere. Finally the music comes to rest with a passage marked Con tensione and a final gentle lontano.

Sonata No. 5, written in 2018, is dedicated to the Greek guitarist Dimitris Kotronakis. The first movement, Movimento fluido, begins with gentle poignant discords of complex harmonic textures. After this short introduction, the instruction changes to Allegro moderato, using both the higher notes of the guitar and an accompanying bass. This evolves towards a short passage of descending notes and a rubato lamentoso interlude of poetic intensity before the return of Allegro moderato. This introduces giant chordal effects and a kind of rhythmic atonal dance before the subtle Rubato lamentoso conclusion. Scherzo diabolico follows, a vigorously dissonant application of diabolical chords and changing time signatures, percussive and violent in mood with much agitation and, needless to say, highly virtuosic in its performance. A gentler pizzicato section follows before the advent of Allegro ritmico where the former agitation returns with even greater anguished intensity. But once more the movement ends with some serenity. The final movement, Partite variate, begins with a melody over moving chords. After this somewhat meditative opening comes moments of Vivace preciso, with their vividly agitated mood. This contrasts with the following short pesante (‘heavy’) broken into by a wild Presto of great brilliance. When this interlude has worked out its fury and passion, a misterioso section takes us into introspection and quietness, with a further drammatico statement to provide an appropriate finale, the last harmonic resounding like a distant bell.

Graham Wade

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