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Composition Féminine - Music composed for Classical Guitar – from Baroque to Modern.
Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983) Concerto for Two Guitars and Orchestra (c. 1961)
Maria Luisa Anido (1907 -1996) Prelude pampeano [3:46]; Melodia de Argentina [1:58]; Aire de vidalita [2:57]
Emilia Giuliani-GuglieLmi (1813 –c.1840) Variations on a Theme of Mercadante Op.9 [5:22]
Ida Presti (1924-1967) Danse Rhythmique (1959) [4.25]
Elisabeth R. Austin (b. 1938 ) Falcon Fantasy for guitar and orchestra [5.50]
Camilla de Rossi (? – c. 1710) Sinfonia for Guitar – from the Oratorio The Sacrifice of Abraham [7:20]
Chris Bilobram, guitar
Christina Schumann, second guitar (Tailleferre).
Reinhard Wolschina, piano
The Orchestra of the Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt
rec. Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt, 27–29 Sept, 13-18 Oct 2004.
QUERSTAND VKJK 0422 [47.20]


The title of this lovely CD is totally explicit – ‘Composition Feminine - Music composed for Classical Guitar – from Baroque to Modern.’ Yet I must confess straightaway that I only know the works and names of one of the composers. Apart from a tiny bell being rung in my mind by Camilla de Rossi (or is it just incipient ‘wedding fever’) they are all closed books to me. There is a dearth of published information on these women, so I hope to be excused leaning on the rather spartan programme notes. And, incidentally that is my only criticism of this excellent and eye-opening disc, although the programme could have been more generous.

Germaine Tailleferre is a great composer - there is no doubt about that. Yet out of ‘Les Six’ she is the least known. Now I do not profess to have heard all that she has written - however everything I have ever heard from her pen I have enjoyed. None more so than this present Concerto for Two Guitars and Orchestra.

This is not the place to give a biography of the composer; however a few notes are perhaps useful. Tailleferre was an exceptionally gifted composer who had studied with Charles Koechlin and Maurice Ravel. She won a number of prestigious academic prizes but this did not stifle her devotion to the prevalent spirit of neo-classicism. All her works have a conciseness, clarity and wit that is lacking in much music written during her lifetime by other better known composers.

She is quoted, rather modestly I feel, as saying about her life as a composer, "I write music because it amuses me. It's not great music, I know, but it's gay, light-hearted music which is sometimes compared with that of the 'petits maîtres' of the 18th century. And that makes me very proud."

The Concerto for Two Guitars and Orchestra was composed in the early 1960s as a commission by Robert J. Vidal, who was a producer at Radio France. It is believed to have been dedicated to two South American guitarists for a concert tour. They were possibly Messrs Pomponio and Zarate. The concerto was been ‘lost’ ‘somewhere in Latin America’ but luckily it turned up in the archives of Radio France.

It is a lovely addition to the catalogue of concertos for this relatively little concerted instruments. To my ear it sits on a par with the Lennox Berkeley concerto and that is a high compliment.

The Variations on a theme by Mercadante by Emilia Giuliani-Guglielmi is an example of the passion that some nineteenth century composers had for writing fantasies on themes from the popular operas of the day. We need only think of Liszt and Thalberg. I am not sufficiently an opera fan to divine what opera gave the theme of these variations, but perhaps it was ‘Emma’. As for Saverio Mercadante he was exceptionally ‘big’ in his day. He was a favourite of Rossini and was influenced by Meyerbeer. At the time Giuliani-Guglielmi wrote her piece Mercadante would have been regarded as the most important composer of Italian opera. He died in 1870 aged 75.

Much more to my liking are the three short pieces by the Argentine composer Maria Lusia Anido. In fact, with the exception of Tailleferre’s piece they are to my mind the most accomplished on this disc. They combine a subtlety of harmonic construction that combines a wonderful atmospheric feel with the native simplicity of folk music. The most substantial is the Preludio pampeano which is one of the loveliest guitar works I have heard. It is truly gorgeous. The Melodia de Argentina is more predictable in its Latin American inflections. The last of her pieces is the near perfect Aire de Vidalita. This intimate music should be in every guitarist’s repertoire. Music to listen to way beyond the midnight hour!

Ida Presti was a French guitarist who was somewhat of a prodigy – she gave her first performance in Paris aged six! In later life she toured Europe with her husband, Alexandre Lagoya who was also a guitarist. Her present piece, the Danse Rhythmique is a soft and gentle miniature that perhaps belies the expectation of ‘rhythm’ in an American sense. This is a dreamy prelude rather than ‘hot club’ jazz.

We move to America for the Falcon Fantasy by Elisabeth R. Austin. This is the most ‘modern’ work on this CD. In some ways it is a bit of an anachronism and there seems to be a certain mixing of styles which I find a little hard to take. Some of this is standard ‘Spanish’ guitar figuration while other sections seem to owe more to certain avant-garde techniques of scraping and tapping. A little bit mixed up, I feel. And the sleeve-notes tend to exaggerate the ‘deep’ programmatic content of this slight work. Having said all this, there are some nice moments and perhaps it does deserve an occasional airing.

There seems to be little known about Camilla de Rossi, except that she was composing music between the years 1707 and 1710. Furthermore she was writing music for the court chapel in Vienna. As to a place of birth we are left even more in the dark – however a number of her remaining holographs have ‘Romano’ inscribed on them – which suggest a Roman origin.

Rossi's catalogue is known to include four oratorios including one on the Prodigal Son and another on St Beatrice. However her magnum opus was the oratorio ‘The Sacrifice of Abraham.’ And what is more I have discovered why her name rang a bell – I reviewed this work a few years ago for Musicweb! [CPO 999 603-2]

The present Sinfonia was originally written for the lute – which appears here taking both a solo and continuo role. It is a slight work in durational terms, yet the piece is a delicate balance between downright charm and a sadness no doubt derived from the subject matter. But let it not be forgotten that the Abraham/Isaac story has a happy ending. These four small pieces well reflect the course of the narrative. I can only wish that more instrumental works had survived from the pen of Camilla de Rossi.

Overall this is a lovely disc. It is one that all guitar enthusiasts would treasure if they were lucky enough to come across it in the shops. The playing is perfect; I cannot fault anything about the sheer musicality of everything presented here.

John France



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