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Early Music

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Fernando SOR (1778-1839)
"My Careless Eyes – Songs & Guitar Music"

Las mujeres y cuerdas * [01:36]
Moderato, op. 35, 17 [01:29]
Acuérdate, bien mio * [01:53]
Variations on a theme by Paisiello, op. 16 [11:07]
Muchacha, y la vergüenza * [01:18]
Andantino lento, op. 24, 1 [03:16]
Cesa de atormentarme * [01:43]
Andante maestoso, op. 11, 5 [02:46]
Ye banks and braes o’bonnie Doon, Fantasie on a Scottish air, op. 40 * [07:09]
De amor en las prisones * [01:31]
Allegretto, op. 35, 8 [01:24]
Mis descuidados ojos * [05:38]
Andante con moto, op. 11, 10 [03:45]
Prepárame la tumba * [01:45]
Allegro moderato, op. 6, 11 [03:20]
El que quisiera amando * [01:42]
Variations on a theme by Mozart, op. 9 [10:16]
Andantino, op. 6,8
Evelyn Tubb, soprano *; David Parsons, guitar (Louis Panormo, 1843)
Recorded in February 2003 in the Chapel of Ashburham Place, near Battle, UK DDD
ASV GAUDEAMUS CD GAU 344 [63:31]



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"Las mujeres y cuerdas de la Guitarra. Es menester talento oara temprarlas. – Women and guitar strings: you need talent to tune them."

That is the text of the first four lines of the ‘seguidilla’ with which this recording opens. There is no doubt that technically speaking both woman and guitar strings are in tune on this CD. But from a stylistic point of view the singing and playing are rather ‘out of tune’.

Fernando Sor spent a large part of his life outside Spain, not by choice, but forced by the circumstances. Born in Catalonia he received his first education at the famous monastery of Montserrat. He learned to sing and to play organ and violin. Only later he switched to the guitar as his main instrument.

In modern times he is mainly known for music for guitar, but at a young age he composed operas, symphonies, string quartets and ‘boleros’ and ‘seguidillas boleras’ for voice and guitar. Almost all his orchestral and chamber music has been lost.

Although Sor took part in the resistance against the French invasion in 1808, after Spain was occupied he took a position in the French administration. In 1813 the French were ousted and Sor, obviously considered a collaborator, had to leave the country for Paris. Later he went to London where some of his ballets were performed. In the mid-1820’s he spent a couple of years in Moscow. In 1826 he returned to Paris, where his famous ‘Méthode pour la Guitare’ was published in 1830.

The programme on this CD consists of some pieces for guitar and 8 of the ‘12 Seguidillas’. The ‘seguidilla’ is a poem of seven lines, the first four of which are the ‘copla’ or verse, the next three the ‘estribillo’ or chorus. These poems were often set to music, in such a way that they suit to a dance. One form was the ‘seguidilla bolera’, a seguidilla on which the ‘bolero’ could be danced.

The way this programme has been put together doesn’t do the artists nor the music any favours. Most seguidillas are rather short and so are a number of guitar pieces. If more than one song or a series of short guitar pieces would have been performed as a sequence the listener would have more time to get used to both music and performance. And maybe Evelyn Tubb would have been able to convince the listener that she has the voice to perform these songs convincingly. But as it is I have to say that her interpretation is a failure. Her voice is as cold as ice, lacking the warmth and passion one associates with Spanish music and some of the best singers of this kind of repertoire, like Montserrat Figueras and Marta Almajano. Ms Tubb doesn’t seem to have the right temperament for these songs.

The guitar David Parsons plays is a very authentic instrument. The English violinmaker of Sicilian descent Joseph Panormo started to make guitars around 1817. Sor lent him a Spanish guitar to copy and made some suggestions for improving the instrument. It resulted in the kind of guitar Joseph’s brother Louis was going to build. One of his instruments is used here, which is played the way Sor preferred, as David Parsons himself indicates in his liner notes: "plucking the strings using only the fingertip and not the nail." But that doesn’t make up for a lack of imagination he displays here. Parsons quotes a witness of Sor’s playing from 1802: "... we listened to his guitar on which he played one of his inspired pieces of music with such sweetness and dexterity of the fingers that it seemed to us that we were listening to a Pianoforte in the variety of expression, sometimes soft, sometimes loud with certain scales that he performed never missing one note ...". Technically there is nothing wrong with David Parson’s playing as far as I can tell, but the ‘variety of expression’ and ‘sweetness’ the anonymous witness wrote about, are missing here. I am sure a Spanish player would deal with this music quite differently.

The recording technique hasn’t been very kind to the performers as well: the microphones have been put very close to the guitar. The listener can hear the movement of the fingers on the strings quite clearly, which I find rather unpleasant. It could well be that this circumstance also contributes to the lack of charm in the guitar items.

I am not saying that musicians should only perform their ‘own’ music – far from it. But some music is so specific and particular that it is almost impossible to perform it idiomatically for someone who hasn’t grown up with it. And something like passion and emotional involvement are qualities which are impossible to ‘learn’.

Evelyn Tubb and David Parsons just don’t have what it takes to deliver the real qualities of Sor’s music.

Johan van Veen



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