The last collection
of guitar music to come my way was a thoroughly enjoyable MDG
disc of Heinrich Albert Duos. Although it’s not my usual
fare I have returned to that recording many times, savouring its
mix of exuberance and technical excellence. This latest offering
in the Naxos Laureate Series is very different. It features a
daunting selection of 20th century pieces played by
the 21-year-old Frenchman Thomas Viloteau, winner of the 2006
Guitar Foundation of America competition.
It’s good that adventurous
recording companies such as Naxos are prepared to take a chance
on new talent, so full marks there. But is Viloteau one of those
young stars who burn brightly for a while and then disappear?
Well, he has had all the right training – with big names in
both Barcelona and Paris – but does he have the personality,
the charisma to match?
Llobet was one of the most influential guitarists of the early
20th century and a profound influence on Segovia.
His Sor Variations are not about empty virtuosity but
they are technically demanding (especially variation seven).
There is real concentration, an intensity, about this piece
that Viloteau communicates very well, not to mention a lovely,
warm lyricism that illuminates his playing at times.
Hearing the great
Segovia play in Paris in 1925 was enough to kindle Tansman’s
interest in the guitar. His Cavatina also has a winning
lyricism and, in the Preludio, some unusual harmonies
too. The Sarabande seems much more like a meditation
than a dance but there is more flamboyance in the Scherzino,
with its animated, rhythmical writing. The Barcarole
has a gentle lilt and some remarkably clear, crisp articulation.
Viloteau’s command of the instrument is never in doubt, although
one might feel there is not much personality in the playing.
The close, dry recording doesn’t allow the guitar much room
to ‘sing’ either; this is a pity, especially in the more lyrical
The Cuban guitarist-composer
Leo Brouwer’s Rito de los Orishas taps into a very different
– African – past (Orishas is a Yoruban word for gods).
Don’t expect outlandish harmonies and wild rhythms though; the
music is surprisingly spare, skeletal almost. The dance that
follows is rather more sensuous, although there is an economy
of style so welcome in music that can so easily become overheated.
Viloteau is certainly alive to the variegated colours of this
music and produces some ravishing sounds. A piece well worth
hearing for its understated sophistication (and as an entrée
to Brouwer’s work).
The Ginastera Sonata
has more of a Latin flavour. Esordio is essentially
a prelude and Scherzo has some very deft and challenging
fingerwork. It is astounding some of the effects Ginastera demands
– and gets – in this virtuoso score. Once again Viloteau finds
some delectable colours and, in Canto, achieves something
of the same intensity and focus that characterises the Sor
Variations. And just when one might think his playing is
a little too self-effacing he pulls off a coruscating Finale.
with Tunisian-born Roland Dyens, whose Triaela is dedicated
to the Greek guitarist Elena Papandreou. The composer is strongly
influenced by jazz and rock and in this three-movement piece
he asks for scordatura or retuning of the bass strings.
In the impressionistic first movement – a tribute to Japanese
composer Tōru Takemitsu (1930-1996) – Viloteau manages
to capture the characteristic shimmer and shift of the latter’s
work. A more forgiving acoustic would probably have added even
more atmosphere to the playing but that’s a minor quibble, really.
The Latin and jazz
elements are fused in Black Horn, which also has a somewhat
improvisatory feel. The retuning results in some startling sonorities.
That said it’s not as evocative as Light Motif. By contrast
Clown Down, a homage to Brazilian guitarist-composer
Egberto Gismonti (b. 1947), is a real tour de force.
I’ve never heard anything quite like it, with its repeated notes,
pizzicatos, chord bursts and shimmering bass. The retuned strings
really add an air of otherness to the music (there are even
some riffs). It’s a highly individual piece that makes extraordinary
demands on the guitarist. Needless to say Viloteau is more than
equal to the task.
This is one of those
CDs that just doesn’t reveal its strengths on first hearing. Initially
one might be tempted to mark it down for what seems to be an unvarying
programme played with plenty of precision but not enough passion.
Subsequent auditions tend to confirm these impressions, although
one’s respect for this young virtuoso actually deepens. Minor
caveats aside, Viloteau remains a prodigious talent. Definitely
one to watch.