Prelude and Waltz: Homage to Segovia
Piece with Clocks
Usher-Waltz (after Edgar Allen Poe)
The Prince's Toys: Suite for Guitar
The Mischievous Prince
The Mechanical Monkey
The Doll with Blinking Eyes
The Prince's Coach
Grand Toys' Parade (Theme with variations)
In the last twenty years or so the music of the Russian composer Nikita Koshkin
(b. 1956) has been recorded and performed by some of the most highly regarded
guitarists in the world so it seems amazing that this disc marks his personal
debut as a recording artist. With it he has undoubtedly established his unique
voice in 20th Century guitar composition and beyond, but also as a
master interpreter of his own music, which is not always the case with some
From the onset Koshkin holds the attention, with solid articulation and bell-like
harmonics in the opening piece, 'Prelude and Waltz, Homage to Segovia', a
tribute to the maestro guitarist who was influential in Koshkin taking up
the guitar at the age of fourteen.
'Guitar' was a commission in 1986 from George Clinton, the editor of Guitar
International Magazine, and published therein that year. It is another tribute,
this time to the guitar itself.
The remaining four works are programmatic, something Koshkin excels in. 'Rain'
a subject that composers from Chopin to Brouwer have used as a source of
inspiration, finds Koshkin conveying through the guitar the force of nature
within a rain storm, from the firm gentle drops to a soaking torrent, then
subsiding again to mere droplets.
It seems strange that emotions can be aroused by a piece of music based on
clocks but this is just what Koshkin manages to achieve, to capture the
mechanical flavour of his 'Piece with Clocks' (Tempo di Tick-Tock is indicated
on the score). Koshkin uses an eleven string guitar which he describes as
'prepared' using cork, a foam mute and matchsticks to extend the effects
that are already a feature of Koshkins music. Tambora, left hand slurs,
pizzicato, string bends, various percussive techniques together with the
full range of dynamics and sound colour available to the guitarist are all
part of his formidable technique. Yet at no time are these devices used simply
for novelty value or randomly. They all have their place always enhancing
the musical structures.
Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's 'The Fall of the House of Usher' the 'Usher
Waltz' is a well known work. John Williams recorded it on his Seville Concert
CD (Sony SK53359) but in the composers hands it takes on a more sinister
nature. The savagery of the playing intensifying the decline into madness.
The title work of the CD, the 'Prince's Toys' written in 1980, had its first
recording by Vladimir Mikulka in 1983 (BIS-CD-240); is a suite of pieces
that illustrates in music the story of a prince who abuses his toys, which
includes a mechanical monkey, a doll with blinking eyes and a group of soldiers.
They eventually rebel and in their turn they mistreat him, until he tries
to escape in his toy coach. They pursue him, eventually catching him and
turn him into one of them, a toy, or do they? It is left to the listener
to decide. The whole work is again punctuated with Koshkins splendid use
of effects that provokes a sense of phantasmagoria.
I thoroughly recommend this disc and I am sure it will take a pride of place
on any classic guitar enthusiast's shelves.
The wide variety of music contained in these four discs from 'Soundset Recording'
and the quality of the recorded sound should be applauded, the classical
guitar being notoriously difficult to do justice to. Rather than settle on
a 'house sound' it seems each recording has been tailored to the individual
requirements of the artists and the music they are presenting, producers
Todd Hallewell and Frank Koonce have done an excellent job.