you are asked to set a quiz, as I was recently, you might
like to use either of these questions:
composer-guitarist played in the 1813 premiere of Beethoven’s
composer-guitarist had a London a magazine named after him following his death?
answer in both cases, as you will have guessed, is Mauro Giuliani.
He played cello in the Beethoven premiere; The Giulianiad
was published between 1833 and 1835 - there is a set in the
near Bari in Italy, little his known of Giuliani’s early years – he emerges
into the record as an accomplished player in Vienna in 1806.
There his friends and acquaintances included Beethoven, Diabelli,
Mayseder, Hummel and Moscheles – he appeared in concert with
the last two. His own music won many admirers, though some
of them had serious doubts about his choice of solo instrument.
When his first guitar concerto was premiered in Vienna on 3
April 1808 a reviewer
in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung praised it as
“the most outstanding work that has yet been written for and
performed on this instrument in Germany”. He suggested that it was incomprehensible that Giuliani should have
wasted his talents on “this perennially weak-volumed instrument!”
and urged the return of the guitar to its proper place – as
accompanist not soloist!
of us are glad that Giuliani didn’t take this advice – not
least when we hear two of Giuliani’s three concerti for the
instrument played as sensitively and intelligently as they
are on this CD. The first is the best known of the three;
it is in three movements indebted both to the models provided
by Austrian classicism and to Giuliani’s own Italian inheritance.
The opening allegro maestoso is a perfectly correct sonata
with something almost Rossinian about both its themes. The
second movement is a siciliana, a graceful andantino the sophistication
of which is coloured by some touches which sound as though
they come from the folk-music of the composer’s native land.
The insistent rhythms of the final movement gives full scope
to the virtuosity of the soloist. The second concerto is perhaps
more introspective in quality, a little more given to melancholy,
at least until the march-like rhythms of the final rondo.
There are also times – especially in the central andantino
– when the effect is charmingly reminiscent of the lighter
side of Mozart.
the concertos are played by the Neapolitan guitarist Edoardo
Catemario – who has made a number of fine recordings for the
Arts label. Remarkably these performances were recorded on
one of Giuliani’s own guitars, known as the Pons l’aîné,
made by Joseph Pons in 1825. Giuliani left Vienna in 1819,
was in London in 1823 and died in Naples. It would be nice to know
more of this instrument and its history – there may be some
such information in the CD booklet, but I can’t be sure, since
my copy is unfortunately missing 12 of its 24 pages. Catemario
is accompanied by the Wiener Akademie, on period instruments,
and the overall sound is delightfully intimate, an utterly
beguiling blend of sharpness and softness. The balance between
soloist and orchestra is well-handled – by Giuliani, who makes
them complementary partners, not competitors, often heard
alternately rather than together, and also by the performers
and by the recording engineer.
result is a thoroughly charming and - in its unassuming way
- rather beautiful CD. This is not music of great profundity
or scope, but anyone who loves Viennese classicism will surely
enjoy this rather odd ‘take’ on the idiom. Lovers of the guitar
will surely need no encouragement to get hold of the CD. When
Giuliani died, the writer of an obituary in the Giornale
delle Due Sicilie observed that “in his hands the guitar
was metamorphosed into an instrument like the harp, sweetly
soothing to the hearts of men”. Something of that claim becomes
more comprehensible when one hears Catemario playing this
guitar of 1825.