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Mauro GIULIANI (1781-1829)
Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra, No. 1 in A major op.30 (1808) [30:18]
Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra, No. 2 in A major op. 36 (1812) [29:26]
Edoardo Catemario (guitar)
Wiener Akademie/Martin Haselböck.
rec. November 2002, Hofburg Chapel, Vienna.
ARTS 47688-2 [60:02]

 

 

If you are asked to set a quiz, as I was recently, you might like to use either of these questions:

Which composer-guitarist played in the 1813 premiere of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony?

Which composer-guitarist had a London a magazine named after him following his death?

The 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 British Library.

Born 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!

Some 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.

Here 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.

The 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.

Glyn Pursglove

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