I have never ranked the guitar as a serious instrument. In fact I have been nauseated by the abundance of the Spanish sound often accompanied by castanets and stomping feet. Very primitive I have often thought. Like my father I hated music being played and yet drowned by noisy tap dancing. Take for example, that lovely musical Brigadoon. In an absolutely sublime orchestration of The Heather on the Hill during the film, the music is hindered and indeed destroyed by Gene Kelly's tap dancing and shuffles. One does not want to decry Kelly's skills as a dancer but at the expense of the music, it is unfair. A wise man said, "Tap dancers should do it in bare feet!" It is the clatter that accompanies much Spanish music with guitar that has caused me, perhaps unfairly, to dislike or deprecate the guitar. But I am certainly not alone in this, believe me. To add to this, the guitar is comparatively easy to play and this is why pop and rock music employ it so much usually to strum out about four chords. That it is portable is, of course, a great asset. I have heard adulation of people like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton as brilliant guitar players and when you mention to these fans the great Segovia they say, "Who?" What prejudice there is.
The Downes work is a Double Guitar Concerto with little or nothing of Spain or half clad bodies on the Costa del Sweat, vicious cruel bullfighting and clattering castanets and shoes. What is here is a mixture of classical and modem forms woven together in a unified whole. The music has a refinement as well as a definite fascination. It is the originality in this rather special concerto that marks it out as special. At times it has a childlike innocence and beauty that is very moving indeed. There is a dignity that is never pompous. I was surprised at the lovely tones that a bass guitar can make. It is such a revelation after seeing and, unfortunately, hearing pop groups scream and shout and abuse the guitar in wild histrionics. One group used to smash their guitars after a song and Jimi Hendrix sometimes played it with his teeth. It is this madness that causes the guitar and pop groups to be regarded as quite insane.
The opening movement of the concerto is wonderfully couched in mystery and develops naturally into a very pleasing whole. The tenderness of the second movement is quite glorious and the finale is busy but always under controlled. The string orchestra part is very fine and well conceived. This is not just accompaniment as you get in Chopin's concertos but a vital and integral part. How well Downes blends the guitars with the strings often as duets in a very loving and expressive manner.
The disc is completed by five miscellaneous pieces not clearly identified particularly when it comes to the Bach pieces. These are of no real consequence.
But the concerto is!
See my biographical article on Andrew
Downes on this website.