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Stephen GOSS (b.1964)
Carmen Fantasy (1998) [21:50]
Stephen GOSS (b.1964) after Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Gnossiennes (2002) [9:15]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946) arr. Peter HOWE
Ritual Fire Dance [3:52]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916) arr. Richard STORRY
Spanish Dance No.2, Oriental [4:37]
Moresque [3:48]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) arr. Gilbert BIBERIAN (b.1944)
Eight Pieces (1915-1917) [10:45]
Stephen GOSS (b.1964)
Lachrymae (2001) [4:17]
Tetra Guitar Quartet: Stephen Goss, Richard Hand, Allan Neave, Graham Roberts
rec. 8-10 January, 2004, Studio 1, Performing Arts Technology Studios, University of Surrey
CADENZA CADCD0460 [58:27]

This is a sophisticated, subtle and – at times – passionate collection of music for four guitars, imaginatively conceived and performed with absolute technical assurance.

Stephen Goss is a witty eclectic composer, the wit sometimes humorous, sometimes perhaps better characterised in the way the Elizabethans did, as a kind of mental sharpness which is alert to resemblances and which often operates by the revelation of unexpected resemblances and connections. Something of the sort is at work (play?) in Goss’s Carmen Fantasy, which opens this programme. The five movements of the work (Torero – Habanera – Aragonaise – Seguidilla - Gypsy Song) naturally incorporate materials from Bizet’s opera, but they also draw on, for example, Debussy’s ‘Soirée dans Grenade’ and ‘La puerta del Vino’, de Falla’s Homenaje (Le Tombeau de Debussy) and Horowitz’s Carmen Variations. We are talking about far more than mere arrangement here. Goss’s music is music in conversation with these earlier scores, a conversation which questions, makes witty observations, repeats ‘remarks’ in a different tone of voice, as it were, and plays many other serious games with its sources. So, for example, the opening movement takes as its starting point Escamillo’s act two aria but inter-cuts music from this with material from the close of act four of the opera. The second movement is well described by the composer as having "a sultry, three-in-the morning atmosphere"; the marvellous third movement begins with some passionately percussive work, allows a brief cadenza, before a controlled frenzy of flamenco influenced rasguado-work and finally metamorphoses into a version of Carmen’s first act aria, ‘Tra la la’. In short, this is a delightful, intelligent piece of music-making, and is played with sure-fingered understanding by the Tetra quartet.

There are more musical conversations in the two other works by Goss to be heard on this CD. ‘Lachrymae’ is a meditation on melodic fragments from Dowland, a study in, sometimes discordant, pianissimo harmonics, in which silence is as important as the delicate lute-like sounds produced by the musicians. A lovely piece – there’s no Sting in the tail of this particular modern reworking of the great Elizabethan master. Goss’s interplay with Satie takes more than one form. The two Gymnopédies are heard in fairly straightforward arrangements, via Debussy’s orchestrations of the originals. The three Gnossiennes, on the other hand, are more subtly reworked, beautifully reconceived and developed in terms of this particular instrumentation. Stephen Goss’s work as a composer is by no means limited to pieces for his own instrument, the guitar (or multiples thereof) – bearing in mind such pieces as, say, his Garden of Cosmic Speculation (2005) for bass clarinet, violin, cello and piano – but his intimate knowledge of the instrument is certainly central to the sheer quality of these works.

Elsewhere on the CD we are into more straightforward arrangements – and what genuine pleasure is to be had from, for example, Peter Howe’s version of the familiar ‘Ritual Fire Dance’ or the dances from Granados in this version by Richard Storry, both of them seen through musical lenses, which if not as complex in their refractions as those deployed by Goss, certainly allow fresh views of the music. Turkish-born Gilbert Biberian, who studied with Elisabeth Lutyens, is himself a fine guitarist as well as a composer (whose own works for guitar quartet are well worth hearing), and his arrangement of Stravinsky’s Eight Pieces works very well in this particular combination of instruments – as well, indeed, as in its original piano duet form. The elements of parody and allusion link the pieces to important aspects of Goss’s work and help to give a real coherence to this very well programmed CD.

Throughout the musicianship of the Tetra Quartet is admirable; the ensemble work is perfect and the air of spontaneity is infectious.

Glyn Pursglove


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