, December 2006
In 1962 Segoviais reported to have nominated the four greatest guitarists to emerge from the younger generation; three of these came from Spanish-speaking nations. During the past five decades the classical guitar has changed status from that of a predominantly Spanish instrument dominated by the Spanish-speaking world to one of true universality.
To survive, every cause needs its champions. Segovia was certainly the guitar’s international missionary and he promoted with zeal and dedication. Even in the far-flung Antipodes the influence of the maestro was felt. 1962 saw the arrival of Jose Luis Gonzalez in Australiato teach and concertise at the behest of Segovia.
Canadais fortunate to have enjoyed the influence of outstanding guitarists such as Norbert Kraft (b.1950) who migrated there as a child and was naturalised in 1954. More recently Canada has produced some very fine guitarists and luthiers. It is also in the city of Ontario that Norbert Kraft and his wife harpsichordist Bonnie Silver produce much of the excellent Naxos Laureate Series for Guitar.
The review disc featuring Canadian guitarist Jérôme Ducharme is a recent addition to that same series. It was recorded in March 2006 the year following Ducharme‘s First Prize win in the Guitar Foundation of America Competition.
Ducharme was born in 1978 and in 1990 commenced his initial musical training at the Cultural Centre of Joliette. Later at the Montréal Conservatoire he won high distinction studying there with Jean Vallières from 1994. He then went to Switzerland and continued studies with Oscar Ghiglia and Stephan Schmidt. Subsequent master-classes include those with Manuel Barrueco, Pepe Romero, Roland Dyens and Odair Assad.
Of the six composers represented on the review disc Rodrigo, Ginastera and de Falla are familiar, particularly to guitar audiences. Less familiar are Matthew Dunne, Jacques Hétu and Juan Manén.
Guitarist/composer Matthew Dunne holds a doctorate degree from the University of Texas, at Austin, in classical and jazz performance. He is head of the guitar programme at that the University of Texas, San Antonio. Appalachian Summer (1) was written for the 2005 GFA Competition held at Oberlin.
Jacques Hétu was born in Québec in 1938. His training record is impressive and he has served in various academic positions including the Université Laval and the Université de Montréal. From 1980-82 and then 1986-88 he was the head of the music department at the Université du Québec à Montréal. He is a prolific composer and the recipient of numerous honours. His guitar Suite op. 41, written in 1986, comprises five relatively short movements the contrasts between which are quite striking.
Born in Barcelonain 1883, Juan Manén’s contemporary reputation was primarily that of a violinist; although self-taught as a composer he showed equal precocity. Like fellow-Catalan Miguel Llobet, he arranged Catalan and Spanish melodic material. This makes occasional appearances in some of Manén’s compositions. Written around 1930 Fantasie-Sonata is initially inspired by harmonies suggested by guitar tuning; Catalan melodic elements become more apparent as the work progresses.
Having listened to the programme several times it is not surprising to learn that Ducharme won First Prize at the 2005 GFA Competition. His musicianship and technical facility are of a high standard. The sound produced on his René Wilhelmy guitar is balanced and sonorous. Wilhelmy is a leading Canadian luthier and has been strongly influenced in his design concepts by the Madrid builder Jose Ramirez III and Robert Bouchet of Paris certainly the sound produced on this occasion is more evocative of the former.
The programme initially impresses as one particularly suited to a committed guitar audience. All the music was written in the twentieth century with the exception of track one which was written five years after the turn of the century. Within the context of the guitar repertory aspects of the programme demand some dedicated listening, eg. Fantasie-Sonata (7) lasts for an uninterrupted 18:01. I recall Lachenmann’s Salute For Chris Caudwell, a twenty-five minute marathon, representing similar aural challenges. The addition of a lighter item or two to the programme may have broadened the musical appeal.
The last item on the programme, de Falla’s Homenaje (15), brings to mind an excited reaction by Benjamin Britten when he called backstage after a rendition of the same piece by Julian Bream: ‘Julian that de Falla piece is a most magnificent piece. You know it probably only lasts 4 or 5 minutes but there is over 20 minutes of music in it.’ My reaction to the review rendition may not have been so effusive, but it nonetheless is well done.
This performance is of the standard we have come to expect from a GFA winner. The programme will probably hold most appeal with the guitar fraternity.