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Heinrich ALBERT (1870-1950)
8 Duos for Guitars
Duo No. 6 in D major [12:11]
Duo No. 2 in A minor [8:33]
Duo No.1 in C major  [7:46]
Duo No. 3 in C major [7:24]
Duo No. 5 in E minor [7:53]
Duo No. 4 in G major [7:22]
Duo No. 7 in A major [14:30]
Duo No. 8 in E major [10:55]
Heinrich-Albert-Duo (Joachim Schrader and Jan Erler, guitars)
rec. 4-6 January 2006, Andreaskirche, Berlin


Guitar aficionados can skip this part but for the rest here is some useful background to the genre. Duets for guitar became a part of concert life in the 1830s, with works by Spanish guitarist-composer Fernando Sor (1778-1839) and the Italian Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829). Sor and his guitar partner Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849) were very successful performers, while further north guitarist-composers Adam Darr (1811-66) and Friedrich Brand (1806-74) were equally so in their native Germany.

Heinrich Albert, born in Würzburg in 1870, came to the guitar later in his musical career; a violinist by training he played in orchestras under the likes of Nikisch, Weingartner and Mahler but was encouraged to take up the guitar by the Italian guitarist Luigi Mozzani (1869-1943). Initially Albert played at society concerts, going on to become a successful composer and the best-known German guitarist of his time.

Fortunately Joachim Schrader and Jan Erler discovered Albert’s eight guitar duos (written between 1915 and 1917) and formed the Heinrich-Albert-Duo to bring them to a wider public. On the evidence of these performances it is hard to understand why Albert’s work isn’t more widely known. Certainly he speaks with a voice that is quite distinct from that of his Spanish contemporaries. Perhaps eschewing the traditional guitar keys of E and A major has something to do with the uniqueness of his sound world. And while the Spaniards tend to rely heavily on the rhythms and forms of their native country Albert draws on the minuet, scherzo and rondo, all imbued with a contemporary accent.

This is not dry neo-classicism, as the exuberant first movement of No. 6 – Sehr breit - flott gehend – amply illustrates. Immediately one is struck by the ease and fluency of the writing, not to mention the obvious rapport between the players. Unlike a disc of Ravel piano duos I reviewed recently this is music-making of real joy and spontaneity, a delight to both the heart and ear. The music, notably in the more introspective second movement, has a strong pianistic flavour, while the range of colours Schrader and Erler produce is just extraordinary. The vigorous concluding Rondo – Lustig belebt – demands a crispness of attack and clarity of articulation that is delivered with great panache.

The next three works on this disc – Nos. 2, 1 and 3 – are much shorter and perhaps less distinctive, with the rhythms of No.2 more reminiscent of the Mediterranean than northern Europe. Certainly these earlier works can seem more like exercises in technique – Albert wrote a five-volume guitar tutor – and they don’t always have the fluidity that characterises the later ones. That said there are flashes of what is to come in the Menuett of No. 1, which has plenty of energy and verve. No courtly reserve here, this is music of good humour and high spirits.

Make no mistake these early duos are very accomplished indeed. The first movement of No. 1 for instance is an absolute delight, the opening melody taken up and embellished to great effect. The second movement really sings, the unanimity of the playing simply astonishing. How fortunate that this neglected pieces have such persuasive advocates; indeed, it would be hard to imagine them better played.

No. 3 is another gem, the opening Nicht zu schnell full of wit and point. Again one is struck by the pianistic quality of the writing, particularly in the more declamatory moments here and in the opening movement of No. 5. There is a slight ‘twang’ to the lower strings at times but strangely enough this adds to the music’s appeal rather than detracts from it. This ‘colouring’, almost zither-like at times, is particularly effective in the half-lit Scherzo misterio of No.5.

After the two-movement No. 4, with its catchy little motif in the first, we come to the final works on the disc, No.7 and No.8. They are a winning blend lovely melodies and an increasingly assured compositional technique. The latter is particularly evident in the extended theme and five variations of No. 7, which also gives Schrader and Erler an opportunity to show off their individual skills. Fortunately empty virtuosity never gets in the way here, which says much about the players’ musical priorities.

No. 8 opens with a real swing and ends with an exuberant tarantella, a fitting close to a hugely enjoyable disc. Full marks to Schrader and Erler for rescuing this music from undeserved obscurity and to MDG for providing an excellent recording. Schrader’s liner notes are clear and informative, a good mix of historical context and musical analysis. Frankly I haven’t enjoyed a disc this much in ages and I urge you to audition it at once.

Dan Morgan


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