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British Guitar Music
William WALTON (1902 – 1983) Five Bagatelles: Allegro – Lento – Alla Cubana – (Lento) – Con Slancio
Peter MAXWELL DAVIES (b. 1934) Farewell to Stromness
Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905 – 1971) Elegy
Lennox BERKELEY (1903 – 1989) Sonatina for Guitar: Allegretto – Lento – Rondo-Allegro non troppo; Theme and Variations for Guitar; Quatre Pièces pour la Guitare: Moderato ma con brio – Andante con moto – Lento (Sarabande) – Allegro energico
Richard RODNEY BENNETT (b. 1936) Five Impromptus: Recitativo – Agitato – Elegiaco – Con fuoco – Arioso
Graham Anthony Devine (guitar)
rec. St. John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, 24-27 July 2003
NAXOS 8.557040 [62:04]

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Not long ago I praised a disc with "Guitar Music from Brazil" (Naxos 8.557295) played by Graham Anthony Devine, and I really looked forward to hearing more from him. Well, here he is again and on home ground he is just as convincing as he was "south of the border". I doubt that there are many more guitarists around with all the qualities that Mr Devine exhibits. His technical prowess is second to none but what impresses even more is his ability to shape a phrase, to build up the tension in a composition, to always keep the music alive. His playing is, if you excuse the pun, divine.

Apart from the Spanish repertoire there are few guitar works that can be regarded as "standards", but Walton’s Five Bagatelles must surely be counted in that category. Written as late as 1972 they represent a reawakening of his creativity. I am not a Walton specialist and I may be wrong, but to me his creative period was the 1920s and 1930s and then his collaboration with Laurence Olivier in those Shakespeare films in the 1940s. Here, confronted with a new medium and inspired by Julian Bream, who no doubt played an important part in the coming into being of these pieces, he suddenly writes some of the most charming music of his whole career. The more I listen to them the more I like them: so full of ideas, of rhythms, of surprising turns. This a young man’s work, not that of a septuagenarian.

I mentioned Julian Bream and his name has to be emphasized in this connection. Much of the music on this disc wouldn’t have been written without Bream’s participation, as a source of inspiration, as commissioner, as technical advisor, so it is appropriate that the disc is dedicated to "the greatest guitarist of the 20th century" as Graham Anthony Devine writes in the booklet.

In the case of Alan Rawsthorne’s Elegy he even completed it, since it was left unfinished when the composer died in 1971. And death seems never to be far away in this moving piece. It is good to have it in a good modern recording, now that Rawsthorne’s music is being noticed again. Naxos have released a batch of records with his orchestral and chamber music and hopefully there is more on its way. There is a similar newly awakened interest in Sir Lennox Berkeley’s music in a series of recordings on Chandos. I must admit that my acquaintance with his oeuvre is limited, to say the least. In Scandinavia he is hardly played at all but during regular visits to UK for more than twenty years I have never heard a note of his music. And that is a shame, since what is presented on this disc is really inviting and I think I have to catch up on Berkeley. The Sonatina, written for Bream in 1957, is an inspired piece of work and especially the first movement is brilliant. The Four pieces for guitar, written between 1927 and 1932 while he was studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, hence the French title, were dedicated to Andrès Segovia, whom he heard at his debut recital in Paris. Strangely enough Segovia never played them, they were found among his papers as recently as 2001. But it seems that Segovia was sometimes erratic; there are several examples of his turning down music, most notoriously the Rodrigo "Concierto de Aranjuez", the most famous of guitar concertos, which he never played, obviously because it wasn’t dedicated to him, which he had hoped. Anyway, these four pieces are melodic and attractive; the first with some tremolo effects, played here with obvious affection. The Andante is also a fresh, melodic piece with some acrimonious spicing. The Sarabande has a baroque flavour while the short concluding Allegro energico is slightly jazzy. In all four pieces one gets the impression that the composer is still searching an identity but the remaining impression is of a full blooded musician and these pieces should definitely be on many guitarist’s menu. Miniatures they are, and so are Richard Rodney Bennett’s charming Five Impromptus. Again Julian Bream is the dedicatee.

Peter Maxwell Davies’s Farewell to Stromness was originally a piano piece and in that shape it has for many years been a favourite of mine. It was an interlude in an anti-nuclear cabaret from 1980, "The Yellow Cake Revue", ‘Yellow cake’ being the name for uranium ore. Stromness is the Orkney town nearest the site of threatened uranium extraction. The title and the haunting, "old fashioned" tune are of course ironic. Compared to the original, Timothy Walker’s guitar arrangement is more soft-edged but still hypnotically surging.

This disc is a winner in all respects. Listeners who normally fight shy of 20th century music need feel no fear: this is accessible music, sometimes even hummable. Add to this that it was recording in the guitarists’ Mecca, St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario with the high priests of guitar recording, Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver, in charge and everyone can rest assured that the technical side of the project is beyond reproach.

Recommended with all possible enthusiasm.

Göran Forsling

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