One of the legacies
of the great instrumentalist-composers is the studies they wrote
to train students and future generations of musicians. These
often combine striking musical beauty with challenging didactic
content. When fingers ache and body weakens the spirit is shored
by tantalizing melodies and harmonies.
Along with the luminous
sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and the immortal studies of Chopin,
Catalan guitarist-composer Fernando Sor wrote what are arguably
the most beautiful and outstanding studies for the classical
guitar. These exhibit qualities comparable to those of the studies
written by the aforementioned composers for their respective
From Sor’s prolific
output Andrés Segovia selected twenty studies that were published
as a discrete set. These have become an integral part of concert
The review disc
is interesting and unique in that it presents some of the Sor
studies included in the Segovia edition but in a very different
format. French guitarist Roland Dyens has arranged six of them
for guitar and string quartet. He describes the project as ‘a
dream I have had for a long time.’ In study No. 1 (7), the guitar
is entirely eliminated. While what we have here follows the
Segovia edition numbering, there are departures from Segovia’s
editing. An example can be found in measures 31-34 of Study
Also presented for
solo guitar is Sor’s Grand Sonata Op. 14 and two of Mauro Giuliani’s
better known works: Variations on Handel’s Harmonious Blacksmith
for solo guitar and Rossiniana No.1, Op. 119 with
string quartet accompaniment.
Roland Dyens, performer,
composer, improvisor and arranger, was born in 1955. He commenced
playing the guitar at the age of nine and in 1968 became a student
of Spanish master Alberto Ponce. He later studied with Désiré
Dondeyne including classes in composition. Since the beginning
of his career he has received many major awards. These include
the Grand Prix du Disque of the Académie Charles-Cros and the
special prize of the international competition Citta di Alessandria
(Italy). Both were awarded in recognition of homages to Villa-Lobos.
Dyens is currently professor at the Conservatoire National Supérieur
de Musique de Paris.
In general these
solos by Sor have been capably arranged for string quartet accompaniment.
Some have simple accompaniment while in others the changes are
more radical. The guitar part for Study No. 5 is presented in
its entirety while it is totally eliminated in No. 1.
As may be anticipated
in such an undertaking, the results are varied. The guitar often
sounds relegated to the status of a melodic instrument, overpowered
by its more sustaining stringed associates. In Studies No. 6
(2) and No. 17 (5) the benefits of string accompaniment do not
compensate for the loss that occurs when the guitar’s polyphonic
prowess in the solo versions is disguised. It may be more than
coincidental that Study No. 20, having received the most embellished
accompaniment, also sounds the best in its new context.
Of all the studies
that Sor wrote, No. 19 in B flat major from the Segovia edition
(6) is an absolute favourite of this writer. It has a uniquely
appealing musical content and is technically demanding, if not
impossible, for the mere mortal to play well. The stretch challenges
for the left-hand are exacerbated in that it was written for
a guitar with a shorter string length than the modern concert
instrument*. Although the one that appears to have been a priority
in Dyens’ ambitions, Study No. 19 fares worst in these arrangements
of Sor’s studies; the guitar part is nonetheless played very
well. In all fairness who could improve on an original composition
of profound perfection?
Association is a
powerful force in daily life and I am unable to dissociate any
hearing of the William Tell Overture from tales of The
Lone Ranger to which I listened as a child. Similarly, renditions
of the famous slow movement from Borodin’s String Quartet
No 2 are invariably accompanied mentally by lyrics from
For those who may
never have heard the Sor studies as solo pieces, this recording
will provide much entertainment and enjoyment. The arrangements
are generally well done and the instrumentalists perform to
a high standard. For those familiar with the music the ‘association
demon’ may be too distracting.
The solo music played
by Roland Dyens is up to the standard expected from a world-renowned
guitarist. Well played as the Sor Op. 14 (3) is by Dyens, when
it comes to rendition of this music Julian Bream remains supreme.
This is a most interesting
and enjoyable recording driven by a musician of significant
ability and creativity. Some purists may have difficulty with
it and for others unavoidable association with the past may
be too distracting. All in all the creativity, musicianship,
and superb sonic quality of the recording are to be admired.
This disc also demonstrates
that like much of the Beatles’ output, quality music is generally
adaptable, flexible and amenable to competent arrangement even
across the genres.
NOTE: *While string length is not the only factor that affects
a guitar’s playability, longer lengths increase the distance the
fingers have to stretch in difficult positions. During the romantic
era when Sor composed his studies, 630mm was a common length.
From the early 1960s to the late 1980s the maker preferred by
most concert guitarists, including Segovia, was
Jose Ramirez III. During that period a typical string length for
guitars by Ramirez was 664mm although he made them up to 670mm.
Ramirez was not alone: guitars by Rubio, Khono and Ruck were all
made with string lengths 664-667mm. The great Spanish master Jose
Luis Gonzalez (1932-1998) despite smaller hands, played the longer
string length Ramirez guitars through most of his career. His
rendition of the Sor study No. 19 (CBS BR 235128) is exquisite.
Today the more universally desired length is 650mm. On this occasion
Roland Dyens plays a fine guitar by Canadian luthier Daryl Perry
which, if standard, has a string length of 650mm.