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Miguel LLOBET (1878 – 1938)
Guitar Music
Scherzo – Vals (1909); Estudio Capricho (1899); Mazurka (1901); 13 Catalan Folksongs (1899 – 1920); Respuesta (Impromptu)(1922); 5 Preludes (1912 – 1935); Mazurka for Federico Bufaletti; 4 Folksongs (ca 1910); Study in E major (1899); Romanza (1896); Variations on a theme by Sor (1908).
Lorenzo Micheli (guitar).
Rec. Aula Magna, Seminario Arcivescovile, Ivrea (Turin), Italy, 24 April, 24 Oct 2002.
NAXOS 8.557351 [73:42]

The current orthodoxy is that the honour goes to Andrès Segovia of having launched the classical guitar as a popular instrument in modern times. However he had a roughly contemporary guitar master, fifteen years older and who had started an international solo career just after the turn of the 19th century. His name was Miguel Llobet (the first L pronounced something like the German Ach-laut). He was born in Barcelona and studied with Tarrega.

He didn’t compose very much; there are only thirteen known original compositions and a group of folk-song settings. Otherwise he arranged works by other composers for guitar. First and foremost he was a brilliant performing artist. On this disc we get most of his oeuvre, spanning his entire life. The earliest piece, Romanza, was written when he was still in his teens. Some of the Preludes were composed just a couple of years before his death in 1938.

The 13 Catalan Folksongs, arranged not as an entity but created during a period of more than 20 years, are like a beautiful string of pearls. Together they occupy about one third of this disc. It is a pleasure to go back and enjoy them – one at a time or as a group. Several of these songs can also be found among Frederic Mompou’s Cancons i danses for piano, and beautiful they are in both settings, although the guitar always creates the more intimate, the more personal feeling.

Respuesta (Impromptu) from 1922 is a tour de force with technical demands of the highest order. Lorenzo Micheli, who is no newcomer - he has among other things recorded the music of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, also for Naxos (8.554831) – is well up to the demands, but the sound is disappointing. Compared to the ideal sound that Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver produce in their Canadian recordings, this is cramped, restricted and hard. There is nothing of the warmth that is typical of a Kraft production. And we hear more of the extra-musical noises (fingers against strings etc) which so often is a drawback with any guitar recording. It takes some time to accept the sonic limitations, and probably I wouldn’t have noticed them so clearly if I hadn’t been playing Kraft recordings just minutes before.

The rest of the music is highly professionally written but I don’t think there are any hidden masterpieces there. On the other hand, who wants to be served Russian caviar and champagne for every meal when there is also fine steak and kidney pie to be had? Llobet’s food tastes good, a bit on the sweet side maybe, but there are also spicier dishes around, the serving staff do an excellent job even if the environment, as I have already implied, could have been a little warmer. The four folksongs of Argentinian origin (Llobet lived in Buenos Aires for many years) are nice melodic pieces, the early Romanza is beautiful and the Variations on a theme by Sor, which also incorporates the medieval folia theme, is another tour de force, a fitting dessert to a light but tasty dinner.

In spite of some reservations I think that this well-filled disc could adorn many guitar collections.

Göran Forsling

see also review by Andy Daly

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