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Jed Distler, October 2009

The booklet accompanying this release reproduces each of the Goya etchings that inspired the 24 individual pieces within Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s solo-guitar suite, 24 Caprichos de Goya. To my eyes and ears Goya’s stylized grotesquerie and twisted expressive palette has little in common with Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s gentle, conservative, and masterfully idiomatic guitar writing. To be sure, there are inspired moments, such as No. 17’s dissonant rapid repeated notes and drum-roll imitations, or No. 22’s harmonically sophisticated cascading arpeggios, but don’t expect an epic, six-stringed equivalent to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Had the composer bagged his Goya subtext and simply titled this suite "Guitar Moods", he would have been right on the money. In any event, Zoran Dukic’s sense of color and textural variety, his seamless technique, and his lyrical disposition serve this music beautifully, as does Naxos’ warm, spacious engineering.

Kenneth Keaton
American Record Guide, July 2009

Dukic’s playing is virtuosic and tasteful, with a huge range of sound.

And that’s what you need for this set. The Caprichos de Goya is Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s largest work for solo guitar, a cycle of 24 pieces inspired by Francisco Goya’s set of 80 black-and-white sketches. These are not the painter’s early works, which seem to be mainly concerned with capturing rich folks at play.

They are grotesque, ironic, even horrific images capturing the decay and hypocrisy of Spanish society after turn of the 19th Century. One wonders what drew Castelnuovo-Tedesco to these images. His music is warm, melodic, even joyous—one would imagine an expressionist might be more in tune. But he did specialize in film music and could adapt to a variety of dramatic situations. There’s irony and bitter humor here, and even a touch of terror when needed.

The booklet reproduces each of the 24 sketches (including one that was not from the Caprichos, though it is in the same style), with Goya’s title but not his comments. Instead, for each piece, author Graham Wade briefly describes the emotional sense of the image and then the musical language used to set it. The composer often relies on dance forms, both Hispanic and neo-baroque.

Even though the inspiration for the work is rather forbidding, the music is still by Castelnuovo, so beauties abound. It even has a single work (the only example in his music I know) using Schoenberg’s 12-tone technique. It happens to be for the capricho ‘Perhaps the Pupil Knows Better?’, set in a classroom of asses, taught by an older ass. We may assume from this what he thought of 12-tone music— though he still manages to make it sound lyrical!

The only competing full set I know is by Kazuhito Yamashita—now deleted—and Dukic is better. Yamashita often sounds rushed, picking faster tempos just because he can, and misses much of the grandeur and drama. He tends to overplay, which wrecks any intensity. Dukic has a grand dynamic range but never falls into ugliness.

Fun fact from the notes: Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s students at Los Angeles Conservatory included Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, Andre Previn, and John Williams (the composer, not the guitarist).

Uncle Dave Lewis, June 2009

Dukic plays Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s cycle with grand flourishes and more than a little virtuousness; double stops flare outward, parallel passagework sounds exactly together, single-note lines sing out cantabile. However, 24 Caprichios de Goya is not, at least in its entirety, a virtuoso piece; a fair amount of it is relatively simple and even plain, and playing it as though it’s going to stop the show—without some measure of sensitivity—makes those plain parts stand out. Overall, Dukic’s recording is fine…this important work of Castelnuovo-Tedesco is recorded so infrequently that no one can reasonably object to any recording of relative merit, particularly one as proficient and professionally polished as is Dukic’s.

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, June 2009

This is a well-played, well-recorded and well-documented version of a sequence for guitar which deserves to be better known than it is. It is a work which deserves to be heard, more often, as a whole, rather than merely excerpted as part of one or another recital.

Though the comparison is a tempting one, it would probably be overstating the case to claim that 24 Caprichos de Goya is the guitarist’s Pictures from an Exhibition. Even if it doesn’t quite have the expressive range and power of Mussorgsky’s work, Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s cycle has a distinctive poetry of its own, a subtle unity of musical construction and a wealth of musical invention that should please and satisfy many listeners.

After leaving Italy in 1939—as Mussolini introduced anti-Jewish legislation—Castelnuovo-Tedesco settled in California, where he taught, composed works for the concert hall—and wrote lots of film music. Perhaps his experience in writing for cinema influenced his desire to write music in response to some of Goya’s most striking visual images. Goya’s Caprichos (Caprices) were executed between about 1793 and 1798, begun at a time when he was convalescing from the serious—and mysterious—illness from which he suffered in 1792 and which left him wholly deaf. The Caprichos brought into Goya’s work an increased sense of the bizarre and the morbid, here deployed in the service of a powerful satirical and moral vision, the satiric targets including religious abuses, sexual immorality and hypocrisy, medical frauds and aristocratic absurdity. In total Goya made a series of 82 plates, etchings reinforced with aquatint. A complete collection of the images can be seen online here.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco chose 23 of the Caprichos and added to them another plate, the ‘Sueño de la mentira y inconstancia’. The work, completed in 1961, was designed for Segovia—the composer had met the guitarist, along with Manuel de Falla in Venice in 1932—but he never made the planned recording.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s response to Goya’s often scabrous images has a greater elegance than one might have expected and this is, perhaps, a limitation on his capacity to the full range of their moods and the savagery of some of their attacks. But much of what the composer does is fascinating, often witty and always interesting. Fortunately, the Naxos booklet does the work proud—providing the listener with an image of every single one of the 24 plates of which Castelnuovo-Tedesco created his musical ‘translations’.

Take, for example, the fifteenth item in the sequence, ‘¿Si sabrá más el discipulo?’ (‘Or does the pupil know more?). Goya’s image—which is plate no. 37 in the Caprichos—shows a wonderfully solemn donkey teaching a younger donkey the alphabet. The image can be interpreted in a number of ways; the donkey-teacher points to the letter ‘A’, which might make the viewer think ‘A is for Ass (Asno)’, but the ‘teacher’ himself seems unaware of how he might be taken to be designating himself; the imagery is part of Goya’s larger mockery of the professions in contemporary Spain and of the decayed state of the educational system. The image can also be read as a wider satire of the phenomenon according to which, as George Bernard Shaw put it ‘Those who can do; those who can’t teach’. Castelnuovo-Tedesco responds by interpreting the image in terms of a particular application of his own. One of the composer’s fellow residents in Los Angeles was Schoenberg, master of more than a few ‘disciples’, musically speaking. It is surely Schoenberg who Castelnuovo-Tedesco has—quite unfairly—but when was satire ever fair?—in his piece. It begins with a kind of ass-like bray, a tone-row is played (perhaps we should imagine it put before the student by the teacher-donkey). It is then transmuted—presumably by the student, who Castelnuovo-Tedesco, remembering Goya’s title, wants to suggest knows better than his donkey-like teacher—into a gavotte and, indeed, into two musettes; the teacher appears to offer some donkey-like comments. While considerably gentler than the visual original, the music has a real satirical point and the whole is a delight!

Elsewhere, there are many striking touches. In ‘El amor y la muerte’ the woman and the dying man she holds in her arms are embodied in a plaintive tango, by turns both blackly amorous and grief-struck. In ‘No hubo remedio’ (Nothing can be done about it), Goya depicts a woman sentenced to death by the Inquisition, surrounded by figures of authority and by a grimly gleeful mob. Castelnuovo-Tedesco writes, with black aptness, a passacaglia constructed of variations on the Dies irae. Goya’s ‘¿De que mal morira?’ (What illness will he die from?) shows us, quite splendidly, a donkey in the guise of a doctor, taking a sick man’s pulse with his hoof, a well-meaning bewilderment on the donkey-doctor’s face. It’s a marvellous image of medicine with no real power to do its patients any good. Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s musical response wittily—but with a kind of solicitude—plays with various conventions of funeral music, including ‘A Funeral March for a Marionette’ and an evocation of the funereal drum at its close.

It would be tedious to continue enumerating the inventiveness of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s response to Goya; enough has been said, I hope, to commend his 24 Caprichos de Goya to those who don’t know the work. It is good to be able to suggest that such listeners make the acquaintance of the work in this new recording by the Croatian guitarist Zoran Dukic. He copes well with the often considerable technical demands of the music; indeed, he is at his best in the more complex and virtuosic passages. In some of the quieter, simpler passages he doesn’t perhaps articulate the full poetry of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s writing, in which regard Lily Afshar’s performance on Summit (Summit Records DCD167) is more completely successful. But that is a minor quibble and not a serious limitation to a generally fine performance, a performance which benefits both of from a good recorded sound and the advantages of a well-produced booklet.

This is a work which deserves to find more hearers than it has hitherto attracted; and this is a recording well-fitted to help it do so.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2009

It was the famous guitarist, Andres Segovia, that sparked Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s interest in the instrument, the highly demanding 24 Caprichos de Goya part of the many scores he wrote for Segovia. Indeed today his name is so linked with the guitar that it comes as something as a surprise to find that he was Italian. In fact the guitar represent a small part of a massive output, later life showing an obsession for working on large musical canvases, including some thrilling Shakespearean tone poems and several operas.The Caprichos also reflect the composer’s interest in the Spanish artist, Francisco Goya, each Caprice resulting from the impression created by twenty-three of his paintings or sketches. Having sometimes criticised Naxos booklets, I must note that this one is superb, and reproduces each Goya painting so that you can hear and visualise at the same time, and by way of an introduction it opens with a painting made of Goya. In reflecting these works of art the music is at times very simple, but is interspersed with technically exacting Caprices. Try track 9 in the second disc—one of the few that is happy and vivacious—as a sampling point. They are played by the Zagreb-born Zoran Dukic, his successes almost a complete catalogue of all the world’s most important guitar competitions. Now he is a highly regarded teacher and a soloist much in demand. He has that clean technique that reduces the noise of finger movement to the minimum. Maybe this will be primarily of interest to guitar enthusiasts, the score containing few instantly memorable thematic ideas apart from the extended twelfth Caprice that is a series of variations on the Dies irae theme. The Canadian recording is superb.

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