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
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
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
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
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.
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