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Arther Smith
MusicWeb International, November 2009

This CD is the second by Naxos featuring the music for two guitars by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, an Italian who eventually settled in California as a result of Mussolini’s anti-Jewish edicts [Vol 1 is available on Naxos 8.570778]. His interest in writing for the guitar stemmed from an introduction to Andrés Segovia at the Venice International Festival in 1932. As a result he composed over one hundred guitar pieces. Some of the finest are for guitar duet where he was inspired by the French duo Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya.

The Fuga Elegiaca of 1967 was written as a response to the passing of Ida Presti at the tragically young age of 43, and also proved to be one of the composer’s last works before his death in March 1968.

Les Guitares Bien Tempérées, (or 24 Preludes and Fugues for Two Guitars) was a landmark in the history of guitar playing, and in a sense, pays tribute to the great J. S. Bach. On this recording we have the last twelve of these—the first twelve being on Volume 1. The keys are selected by using a cycle of rising fifths alternating major and minor keys (the first is no. 13 in G major). These are no mere exercises for the duet but full of melodic invention, and one or two surprises; like the use of the tune ‘I Hear America Singing’ (which to me sounds like the opening of ‘I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’ from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess). He also uses various dance styles and rhythms—Minuet and Trio in no. 13; Bourrée in no. 17; a 6/8 Siciliana in no. 21—which look back to the Baroque era and J.S. Bach. The use of a guitar duo allows a greater variety of colours and harmonic discords than would be possible with just a single guitar.

The Brasil Guitar Duo give very accomplished rendition of this music, playing with formidable technique and style. I think that they are helped sonically by the fact that the guitars are made by the same maker—Sergio Abreu from Rio de Janeiro. This gives them something I always ‘bang on about’ with choral music—a good blend and integrated sound.

The recorded sound is excellent with the players not too close, and the acoustic not too reverberant adding clarity to the various fugal entries. The booklet gives information on the composer, players, a short description of each piece, and the jewel case insert has a full track listing.

In short, a thoroughly enjoyable and recommendable issue, and one to which I will return regularly.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, October 2009

CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Music for Two Guitars, Vol. 1 (Brasil Guitar Duo) – Sonatina canonica / Les guitares bien temperees: Nos. 1–12 8.570778

CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Music for Two Guitars, Vol. 2 (Brasil Guitar Duo) – Fuga elegiaca / Les guitares bien temperees: Nos. 13–24 8.570779

The Sonatina Canonica is a pleasant miniature, which fills the time. It’s delightful but without depth. But what else would you want from such a piece? After a short time you don’t really notice that you’re listening to canonic writing, and the mind can simply enjoy the interplay between the instruments.

Fuga elegiaca was one of the composer’s final works, and it is in two parts—Prelude and Fugue. The Prelude is probably the most sheerly joyous music on both CDs; it’s a roller-coaster ride and sets the scene for a more solemn, but not too much so, fugue. This is a delight. In a way, I wish that there could have been more music like this here.

Les Guitares Bien Tempérées is a much more serious work, by which I mean that it is not light in the way that the Sonatina is light. These pieces are not primarily for entertainment, but there is much music here which is truly enjoyable. I would never have thought that it was possible to get so much variety from two guitars. Castelnuovo-Tedesco fills his pieces with every emotion imaginable, from pathos to, almost, belly laugh (is that an emotion?) There are light and breezy pieces, serious inventions, dance type pieces—very holiday advertisement time—and all this wide variety of invention adds up to a very satisfying and pleasurable whole…if you’re into the guitar, then you’ll lap up every minute of these discs.

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, September 2009

It is always something of a surprise to remember that Castelnuovo-Tedesco is a 19th century-born Italian composer. It was a meeting with Andrés Segovia in 1932 that ultimately led him to write over one hundred works for guitar. Of those, the liner-notes tell us that the 1962 cycle The Well-Tempered Guitars, 24 Preludes and Fugues for two guitars Op. 199 represents not only one of the composer’s finest works for the medium but also one of the greatest of all pieces written for guitar duo.

This disc completes the cycle started on Naxos 8.570778 with Preludes and Fugues 13–24. Due to very careful dating on the manuscripts we know that these pieces were all written during a period of intense creativity between 14 May and 3 June 1962—some fifty minutes of music composed in little more than two weeks. Perhaps this reflects the compositional discipline he learnt as a Fascist refugee film music composer in California between 1940 and 1956.

Clearly there is an intentional homage here to Bach’s famous keyboard cycle of a similar name…I’m sure that Graham Wade in his liner-notes is quite right to say that they are in effect a much more personal musical diary recording the composer’s moods and emotions over an intense but short period of time…For sure these pieces will repay close and detailed listening but at the same time they can be enjoyed in a much more relaxed and superficial way too. They are exquisitely played by the Brasil Guitar Duo. Their ensemble, tuning, and total immersion in this sound-world is exemplary. You simply do not hear this as two instruments—listen to the intricate interplay of Prelude No.16 in E minor (track 9)—this is far harder to bring off than the Brasil Duo make it sound. They seem totally at ease with the water-colour miniaturist world of this music too—the Prelude No.18 in F# minor (track 13) is a perfect example. Every subtle nuance is carefully etched and all have been recorded in the naturally warm acoustic of St John Chrysostom Ontario that Naxos use for so many of their chamber music recordings.

The disc closes with the brief four and a half minute Fuga elegiaca which occupies a very similar spiritual world to the main work. This makes for a reasonably modestly filled CD but one that fulfils its remit to perfection. For those who already own volume 1 there will be no hesitation and for those who don’t this would seem to be an ideal introduction to the elegant and graceful sound-world of this composer…Music of refinement and beauty performed with enormous technical sophistication and musical taste.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2009

Last November I was giving a warm welcome to a superbly played first volume in a series that will bring us into contact with hugely enjoyable and seldom heard music.  Yet it was only by a chance meeting with the legendary guitarist, Andres Segovia, that the Italian composer, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, was awakened to the range of music the guitar could generate. He was then to write over a hundred guitar scores, written at a time when he was living in the United States, the home imposed upon him by the Second World War, and where he had also become much involved in music for the silver screen. Both works on the disc are from the 1960’s, the major item being the completion of Les Guitares Bien Temperées (The Well-Tempered Guitars), the first twelve being on the earlier disc. It was his affectionate response to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, the last twelve forming a substantial score lasting almost fifty minutes. Though in outline it was a score that looked back, the music is attractively modern and at times distinctively jazzy, the thirteenth Prelude seeming to have strayed into Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Often extremely difficult, the speed and complexity of the Fifteenth throws down a challenge to any duo. In mood they are a well contrasted series of pieces that make for pleasing hearing. The disc, which is completed with the Fuga elegiaca written in response to the tragically early death of Ida Presti, part of the famed Presti and Lagoya duo,is performed by Joao Luiz and Douglas Lora who form The Brasil Guitar Duo. Their unanimity and individual excellence brings razor-sharp articulation in an outstanding release. Superb sound quality.

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