> Stoker Complete Guitar Music [JF]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Richard STOKER
Complete Guitar Music

Pastoral Op.42c (1966)
Dance Movements Op.66 (1984)
Diversions on a Theme of Theodorakis Op.46 (1973)
Pieces for Polita Op.57 (1979)
Sonatina for Guitar Op.42 (1974)
Improvisation Op.42b (1972)
Zodiac Variations Op.22 (1965 - piano version 1978 arranged by Martin Vishnick)
Sonata for Two Guitars Op.55 (1977)
Concerto for Two Guitars & Tape Op.56 (1978)
Martin Vishnick, solo guitar; English Guitar Duo, David Collins and Martin Nockalls
Recorded at JJ Studios, Clapham, South London (Tracks 1 and 6 to 38); Ridge Road Studio, Stroud Green, London N8 (Tracks 2-5) (Recording date circa 1997) and Live Recording 21st July 1978 at the Wigmore Hall London (Track 39-44)
[Thanks to the composer for additional information]

The first thing to be said about this interesting CD is that it must not be listened to at one sitting. This was my immediate opinion of this disc, however I was delighted that another reviewer on Musicweb felt exactly the same. This is not to belittle the content or the playing - it is simply that the works are in some ways quite similar - and they need to be separated by gaps, otherwise the whole seventy-one minutes blend into a long series of miniatures.

Now the guitar is not my favourite instrument (for the record it is the piano) and normally I would feel that I had little to contribute to a review. Perhaps my idea of guitar playing is predicated around Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. But maybe that is an age thing. But a second hearing of the disc revealed some interesting, attractive and moving music. There are a few pieces that probably do not need to be heard more than once, but typically each is marked by a good instrumental performance.

So listen to this CD one work at a time, and I promise you will enjoy it. I should add that the programme notes are very good for this kind of CD production. There are unusually long gaps between movements and works. I am afraid to say that on my disc there are one or two sound defects, a bit of hiss, which surprises me, and a bit of distortion.

The Pastoral Op42c (Stoker's catalogue is not easy to understand chronologically) is an easy piece to listen to. It is the composer's first essay for the guitar, and it is an attractive and enjoyable miniature. Although it was composed in 1966 it does not have any feeling of the contemporary avant-garde about it. A nice piece for recitalists to have under their belts.

The Dance Movements Op.66 are very much in the old style. In fact they remind me of courtly love and chivalry. It is as if they were written for a 'Camelot' style film. But that does not detract from their worth. They were first performed in 1984 by the lutenist Dorothy Linnell and were later reworked for guitar. Once again they are easy to listen to, even if a touch monotonous in places.

The Diversions on a Theme of Mikis Theodorakis Op.46 need a little more thought. They are based on a theme composed by the Greek composer. The manuscript was smuggled out of the prison in Oropos, where he was being held. I refer the listener to Richard Stoker's interesting and illuminating autobiography Open Window Open Door for all the details. However, Stoker took up this tune and turned it into an 11-note tone row - Stravinsky used five note rows, by the way, so anything is possible. He uses this as a basis for a set of diversions or perhaps even variations. It reminds me of RVW's comment on his 8th Symphony - variations in search of a theme. Stoker's theme appears at the end of the work. The programme notes give a couple of quotes from The Times and Guitar Magazine giving this work fulsome praise. However I find that it is a bit uneven. Some of the 'diversions' are definitely better than others. There are some gorgeous moments in this piece, but some of it seems to wander in an aimless manner. However the last movement, the Sostenuto e rubato, makes it all worthwhile. And I promise a second listening does make this piece more enjoyable. It is extremely well played to boot.

Pieces for Polita Op.57 was composed for the guitarist and educationalist Polita Estarellas. Once again Stoker makes subtle use of a series or tone row. This work has been spoilt a little bit by the sound quality on my recording. It was first given at Ilford in 1979 by the present soloist. Much of this work is imbued with a Spanish feel - especially the attractive Scherzo 1 and 2. I did find the opening Impromptu a little on the tedious side, but the rest of the work makes up for this lack of interest. The last movement, Danse-Ritmico, is superb and exciting. A good piece.

The Sonatina for Guitar Op.42a is a misnomer. It is the work that most impresses me on this CD. It calls up the entire French thing - Boulanger and the late Anglo-French composer Sir Lennox Berkeley. And this is hardly surprising as Stoker was taught by both of these eminent composers. It was written as a commission for Gabriel Estarellas and was given in 1974 at the Purcell Room.

I mentioned that Sonatina was a misnomer - I actually believe that the content and depth of this work make it a full-blown, if somewhat short, sonata. It is not a 'teaching piece' by any stretch of the imagination and nor did the composer intend it as such.

The first movement is written in classic sonata form and is full of interest. The slow movement is subtitled 'Poem'. I wonder what words may have lain behind this poignant music. The third and last movement is a toccata and is fantastic - a difficult piece well played.

The Improvisation Op.42a was written for Angelo Gilardino and was first performed in 1972. It is difficult to know what technical constructions underlie this short work. It does not matter. It is an attractive piece that is enjoyable to listen to. It is well constructed and is quite beautiful in places.

I reviewed the original piano version (1965) of the Zodiac Variations last Christmas and was very impressed by this set of miniatures. The guitar version is equally good. It is full of onomatopoeic effects - based on the signs of the Zodiac. The attentive listener can hear Sagittarius's bow twang, the twins, Gemini, are scored in two-part counterpoint, and Aquarius has a splash of water in the score. The tune that all these variations are based on is Cancer the Crab. This is great stuff and should be in the repertoire of all classical guitarists who seek to play music written away from the Iberian Peninsula!

The Op.55, Sonata for Two Guitars is tonally and structurally a million miles away from the Concerto for two guitars. Yet it is only one opus number and one year apart. This work is acoustic and nearly diatonic! Once again, like the Sonatina the first movement is in classical sonata form and very good for that too. It is full of variety and interest, the subjects being extremely well balanced. The Ostinato, second movement is definite mood music. There is a jazz feel here - something of the smoky basement club at midnight. Stoker, I feel, has deliberately made this music static - although there is some development apparent.

The last movement is energetic and fun. It acts as a unifying element in this work, utilising note rows and structures from the previous movements. This is definite 12-tone music, unlike the previous two movements that really do not have that kind of feel to them. And what a wheeze - to call it a Jig/Fugue! Good piece well played. It deserves to be popular.

The last piece on this CD is the Concerto for Two Guitars and Tape Op.56. Now any mention of tapes or electronics in music usually puts me off straightaway - at least in ''classical" music. For someone more at home with Bridge String Quartets and Stanford Organ Sonatas it is quite an intellectual jump to cut and paste on the reel to reel. However it is not as bad as I had anticipated. It is certainly the most 'modernistic' work on this disc. Although the sleeve notes do not state it, I believe there is some amplification of the guitars too. But this is not Motorhead or Thin Lizzy. This is definite serial music. The tape was pre-recorded by the artists and uses only true guitar sounds, albeit sometimes distorted. The work certainly has some interesting sound effects to it. I am not convinced though that sound effects are enough. There must be a structure as well. Now I am not denying that it is built to a musical plan - it obviously is; however I feel that the sounds overwhelm the form. The work is in three movements. It is perhaps the piece I least enjoyed on this CD.

This is a varied production from ASC that manages to combine traditional diatonic music with something that is a little more avant-garde - at least to this old-fashioned reviewer. It reflects the composer's ability to utilise many different styles and techniques. He is never controlled by a series or tone row but always manages to impose his will on his material. He is not browbeaten into any particular style of the moment, but composes for the media and for the performer and fortunately for the listener and the audience.

John France


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