new release presents the complete works of Mauro Giuliani
for guitar and orchestra. While not mentioned in the accompanying
information, it is the premiere recording of these works
as performed on original instruments (18th century guitars).
the music and soloists are relatively unfamiliar to potential
audiences, informative and generous notes desirably accompany
the recording; these assist with a better
understanding and enhanced musical enjoyment. There is a
general paucity of information in the notes accompanying
this set. Brilliant’s marketing executives should reference,
as a useful standard of excellence, the superb notes by
Jaap Schröder that accompany his recording of the J.S. Bach
Partitas and Sonatas for solo violin, Naxos 8.557563-64.
was born in Bisceglie,
Italy on July 27th 1781. Initially a cellist,
he later devoted his time almost exclusively to the six-string
guitar. Like many skilled Italian instrumentalists of the
period he moved north and settled in Vienna
he quickly became famous as one of the greatest living guitarists.
He was a prolific composer for guitar with more than 200
individual works to his credit.
1808 he gave the premiere of his guitar concerto, op. 30,
to great public acclaim. Interestingly he still found time
to pursue adjunctive musical interests, and on Dec.
8th 1813 played cello
in the premiere of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.
review disc notes make no specific reference to “authentic”
or “historically informed” performance, either per se
or in context of the guitar. There is probably wisdom
in this omission given the non-specific nomenclature involved
and the wide diversity of opinion.
musicians have adopted middle-of–the-road tactics using
historically informed approaches on modern instruments or
a combination of modern/original. Other instrumentalists
such as violinist Pinchas Zukerman have totally rejected
the concept describing it as “asinine stuff - a complete
and absolute farce”.
point on which most authentic performance proponents agree
is that such an approach is only a means to an end: that
of achieving a more artistically effective performance.
Also, that adherence to principles of authentic performance
is not an “all or nothing” matter as well demonstrated by
individuals such as Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Sir Charles
is interesting that among the most revered and coveted violins
used nowadays to play music of all periods, are those made
in 17th-18th century Italy
by Antonio Stradivari and by the Guarneri family, having
started their careers as “period instruments”.
in musical fashion, composition style, and need for more
volume in larger concert venues were among factors that
influenced modification to the original instruments. Although
the fundamental structure remains unchanged, necks have
been grafted to facilitate higher playing positions. This
modification together with higher bridges and changes to
string composition enhance the volume capabilities of the
instrument. The modern Tourte bow is larger and heavier
than its baroque equivalent with resultant advantages and
would argue that the sound of a baroque violin is not necessarily
better than that of its modern counterpart, but different.
It possesses virtues not shared by the modern violin and
therefore endows the authentic performance with an added
dimension of sound. The fact that modern instruments can
be played in ways approximating the sounds and technique
of the composer’s day should not be disregarded. A relevant
example is vibrato, used more copiously in modern technique,
can be restricted to suit authentic performance.
factor in replicating original performances is the challenge
of the composer’s intention, which was often more implied
than specifically indicated.
the piano, the classical guitar has undergone quite monumental
changes when one compares the modern instrument with its
18th century equivalent. In the case of the guitar
the only elements that remain unchanged are the rudimentary
shape: the presence of six strings and frets on the fingerboard.
The modern instrument is much larger, is longer, has a wider
fingerboard and a vastly different internal structure. Most
importantly the sound is more voluminous, the bass-treble
balance much better and the general tonal qualities superior.
This instrument has the capacity to be heard in larger concert
technique was used to play the 18th-early 19th
century guitar, in specifics, remains obscure but generally
varied from player to player. While some attribute the modern
technique of playing the guitar to Francisco Tarrega, others
claim that he merely inherited the key components of technique,
as employed by Dionisio Aguado, through his teacher Julian
Arcas. One source indicates Tarrega initially used fingernails
to strike the strings and later turned to use of fingertips
only. Yet another indicates his use of fingertips only was
not a matter of choice but because his nails were so brittle
and friable as to be useless for playing the guitar.
attempting an “authentic” performance of 18th-
early 19th century guitar music one has several
options for right hand technique and instrument support.
The “pinkie’ finger of the right hand may or may not be
anchored to the sound-board; the third finger of the right
hand (a) may or may not be used in executing notes. When
seated with the left leg elevated and supported by a footstool
the guitar may be held in the lap, or as recommended by
Aguado, held with the aid of a specially designed tripod.
There is a period portrait of Giuliani playing the guitar
standing up with the guitar supported by a strap.
the most significant influence on final sound is the use
of fingernails or plain fingertips to strike the strings.
While Fernando Sor was averse to the use of fingernails,
Aguado used them routinely. Argument regarding the relative
advantages and disadvantages continues to rage despite Andrès
Segovia’s use of nail/flesh combination and condemnation
of flesh alone. Gut strings also were a very important aspect
of this controversy and it was not until the invention of
nylon in the 20th century that these less reliable
and arguably inferior components could be replaced.
on prior experience listening to baroque cello and violin,
any expectations of a new and elevated sound dimension to
the Giuliani works on this review disc are quickly dashed
- at least from the solo guitar perspective. The sound of
the ”period guitars” used is rather subdued and poorly balanced,
the former a result of intrinsic instrument characteristics
together with employment of fingertips alone to strike the
strings. The overall sound is often more like that of a
spinet than a modern day guitar - i.e. instruments beginning
with the innovations of Antonio Torres and to which we have
become accustomed over the past century. This may explain,
at least in part, the incessant drive of modern luthiers
to perfect the guitar in the same way that Stradivari et
al. did with the violin so long ago.
execution of the music by guitarists on the review disc
is first class. Each possesses a refined and strong technique
albeit not augmented by departure from the use of right-hand
orchestral playing is quite beautiful, particularly in op.
30, which is the highlight of this new release. Aside from
the period guitars, period instruments used on this recording
are complementary to the overall objective. The end result
is among the better recordings of this music - distinction
between period and modern instruments aside.
the next recording of these works should be assigned to
Harnoncourt or Mackerras? Either would likely utilise all
the exact same elements but require each soloist to play
a modern guitar. The net result would have all the characteristics
of a truly memorable and outstanding recording.
with a commitment to the ”original instrument” concept and
an interest in evaluating the novel sounds of 18th
–early 19th century guitars will find this
an enjoyable recording.
with an appreciation and understanding of the modern classical
guitar are better served by recordings such as those of
John Williams, Angel Romero, Eduardo Fernandez, each of
whom has released versions of Opp. 30 and 70 utilising modern