The name Mauro Giuliani will possibly be known already
to guitar aficionados, maybe even to lovers of the byways of the repertoire.
Naxos continue to explore the music of such little known figures and
in the process seem determined to introduce us all to unfamiliar names
and their output. Klaus Heymann’s oft-quoted dictum that ‘people will
risk a fiver’ for such discs is probably still true (I do it all the
time), and in the case of the present recording, they shouldn’t be disappointed.
In fact, there is actually a relatively large Giuliani
discography already, and many of the world’s top guitarists have performed
and recorded his works. The player on this disc, Norbert Kraft, is an
experienced international soloist and the brains behind the Naxos Guitar
Collection, and he accompanies the excellent flautist, Nora Shulman,
very well indeed.
One tends to forget just how popular the guitar was
in 18th Century Vienna, which is where Giuliani really made
his mark when he moved there in 1806. As the leading virtuoso of the
day, he befriended many of the city’s luminaries, including Beethoven,
Schubert, Moscheles and Diabelli, and composed what is probably the
world’s first guitar concerto.
Many amateur musicians took up the instrument for practical
reasons. It was easy to transport, cheaper to buy than the fortepiano,
and easier to learn than the violin. It also suited the social atmosphere
of the city, where salon or parlour entertainment was all the rage,
and made a perfect accompaniment to the voice or, as here, a solo instrument.
Most of the pieces on this disc are from this Vienna period, and the
relaxed style and easy-on–the-ear melodic content are typical.
The most substantial work here is the Grand Duo
Concertante, which in the time honoured tradition of its title,
provides brilliant passage work for both instruments, as well as infectious
melodies that would be instantly memorable. It is possibly his most
famous piece and has been recorded at least twice before, but it’s doubtful
whether those performances are any better than this, with both players
relishing the challenges provided.
The Serenade, Op. 127 is also a quite substantial
and very enjoyable piece. The bravura Rossini-like runs echo one of
Giuliani’s influences, and his friend Beethoven would probably have
loved the raised eyebrows from sections of the conservative Viennese
public in the boisterous Rondo finale.
The aptly titled Grand Potpourri must have been
a great favourite in its day, weaving together as it does original melodies,
popular songs of the time and, most obviously, quotations from Don
The Grande Serenade that closes the disc follows
the form of the traditional Viennese serenade, with a lovely theme and
variation first movement, minuet, allegro-scherzo third movement, and
a rousing march to cap the whole thing.
Throughout this recital the performers show obvious
commitment and real enjoyment of the material. The recording is clear
and nicely balanced (the engineer is the guitarist himself), and the
notes brief but informative.
All in all, a good disc to dip into if you need a bit
of cheering up.