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Fernando SOR (1778-1839)
Minuets
Op. 2: No. 1, G major [0.53]; No. 4, C major [1:14]
Op. 3: G major [1:29]
Op. 5: No. 1, G major [0:53]; No. 3, C major [1:07]
Op. 8: G major [1:02]
Op. 11: No. 1, G major [1:39]; No. 2, G minor [1:36]; No. 3 G major [2:37]; No. 4, D major [2:34]; No. 5, D major [1:50]; No. 6, A major [2:11]; No. 7, A minor [1:45]; No. 8, A major [2:22] No. 9, E minor [1:49]; No. 10, E major [2:36]; No. 11, F major [2:11]; No. 12, B Flat major [2:18]
Op. 13: No. 1, A major [1:05]; No. 3, C major [2:01]
Op. 15: E minor [1:26]
Op. 22: C major [2:41]
Op. 23: G major [1:38]
Op. 24: No. 1, C minor [2:39]; No. 2 F major [1:21]; No. 3 F major [1:17]; No. 4 F major [2:16]; No. 5, F major [1:57]; No. 6, F major [1:15]; No. 7, F major [1:31]; No. 8, B flat major [1:37]
Op. 25: C major [2:36]
Op. 32: E major [1:25]
Op. 36: No. 1, A minor [2:53]; No. 2, G major [3:12]
Agustín Maruri (guitar)
rec. 20-22 Sept. 2005, Santa Eufemia de Cozollos, Olmos de Ojeda, Palencia, (Spain).
EMEC E-069 [65:00]


Had Beethoven been able to access a modern Steinway Concert Grand, one would feel secure in mooting his absolute preference over instruments of the day.
 
Paganini would be less swayed; the same violin he played, with the exception of minor modifications to increase volume, is being played on today’s concert platforms.
 
Fernando Sor is a similar case in point to Beethoven. The modern concert guitar is far superior in quality and quantity of sound and facilitates technical execution of the music. It could be argued that greater string length increases difficulty of stretches, but a wider fingerboard facilitates multiple stoppings. Doubtless Sor would have embraced a guitar by Jose Romanillos or indeed even the earlier generation of modern guitars by Antonio de Torres (1817-1892).
 
Despite unequivocal advantages offered by most modern-day concert instruments there is consistent emergence of new recordings employing original or authentic instruments of the period in which the music was composed. ‘Authentic’ or ‘historically informed’ performance has its aficionados one of whom is not Pinchas Zukerman. He once described this as ‘asinine stuff - a complete and absolute farce’ Probably a middle-of-the-road approach is most relevant - an historically informed approach but on modern instruments if they offer a superior sound and enhance the overall performance.
 
Superb modern replicas are being manufactured for concert performance. Luthiers are producing instruments that often sound as good, and sometimes better, than period guitar on which they were patterned. In his recording of Regondi and Mertz (Naxos 8.555285) Ricardo Gallén used a copy of an 18th century Spanish guitar made by Joaquin Garcia Malaga. Despite the virtues of this replica it is significantly inferior to the modern guitar by Paco Santiago Marín which Gallen uses on his recording Guitar Recital (Naxos 8.554832).
 
In every sense the review recording is dedicated to authentic or historically informed performance. Guitarist Agustín Maruri plays an 1840 instrument by French luthier René Lacote from the collection of Patricia Barrow (Ireland). The guitarist claims it to be ‘an extraordinary instrument with a double top’. Several modern-day luthiers have made instruments with double tops, but it is not an innovation that has been widely embraced so may be assumed without consistent demonstrable virtues.
 
Among the minuets of Fernando Sor are some absolute treasures that have recurred on recordings and in concerts of eminent guitarists over the past five decades.
 
Agustín Maruri chose for this recording almost all the pieces that Sor called ‘minuets’. Not included are four that were printed without opus numbers, however two of these are repeated under some other opus number and included here; also excluded is the minuet with variations op. 48.
 
In total thirty-five minuets appear and to the best knowledge of this writer no other historically informed definitive recording of Sor’s minuets is available. Doubtless Naxos will ultimately embrace this in future recordings of their Laureate Series.
 
The English version of notes that accompany this recording are totally devoid of Agustín Maruri’s biographical details. This may, in part, be explained by the fact that he has around 20 other releases in his discography, and the assumption is made that those who should know, already do.
 
For the less informed - this writer included- after initial conservatory studies, Maruri took advanced studies with Ernesto Bitteti in Madrid; simultaneously he studied musical interpretation with Juan Carlos Gomez Zubeldia. He has given concerts in five continents and represented Spain in Athens during concert celebrated by Greek Radio Television in 1989. In 1990 he received the medal of the Spanish College in Paris.
 
Ranking high among the treasures previously alluded to, are those from op 11 and especially No. 5 (11) and No. 6 (12). While recorded many times, including a version by maestro Segovia, no one has yet managed to match the exquisite rendition of (12) by Vincente Gomez (Decca FL-31.164) now regrettably long out of print but well worth scouring the second-hand shops for. Recorded some time in the 1960s Gomez manages a harpsichord-like quality on his Santos Hernandez guitar and an interpretation that will remain for ‘all time’.
 
Those familiar with the guitar repertory will immediately recognize op. 22 in C major (22) for the gem that it is and op. 25 in C major (32) and op. 32 in E major (33) are also favourites.
 
Probably the best word to describe the execution of this music on an original instrument is ‘interesting’. While this is certainly one of the better original Lacote guitars I have heard, it nonetheless has a boxy sound and is relatively inadequate in comparison to a modern instrument. The same guitarist executing the same repertory on a fine modern instrument would produce a superior sound and a more enjoyable recording; any gain in novelty factor is significantly diminished by the shortcomings. The guitar does not have to fashionably and slavishly compete with the violin etc. in this genre.
 
Agustín Maruri plays the music of Sor well and it is enjoyable to find all of the minuets on a single recording. In some of the rapid single note and interval passages Maruri is less convincing and in (19) more care could have avoided the impression of fluffed notes.
 
One aspect of the classical guitar that elicits more comment by reviewers than any other is string squeak, i.e. the sound generated by rapid finger movement on the three bass strings which are wire wound on nylon filament (or the appropriate period substitute). This is an inherent aspect of the instrument and as characteristic as bow sound on the cello or the mechanical sound generated by the keys on some wind instruments. Reviewers often relate the presence of string squeak to a deficiency in technique and in absolute terms it is not; even the great Segovia was a ‘squeaker’.
 
No classical guitar recording has ever been made in which string squeak is totally absent. Some players are more able than others to skilfully reduce it, and recording reduction techniques are employed, but irrespective to some it remains a bone of contention.
 
Having made that point, the review recording is probably one of the worst this writer has encountered for string squeak and if you have hypersensitivity such a recording may be a source of anxiety.
 
This is a specialist recording and probably a little self indulgent on the part of the guitarist who states ‘I always wanted to do a recording dedicated to the music of Fernando Sor’. In summary, if you are a fan of Sor and want to hear all his minuets well played on an original 1840 René Lacote guitar, this recording is for you.

Zane Turner
 

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