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Thomas Viloteau: Guitar Recital
Miguel LLOBET (1878-1938)
Variaciónes sobre un tema de Sor, Op. 15 (1908) [7:43]
Alexandre TANSMAN (1897-1986)
Cavatina (1952): (I. Preludio [3:30]; II. Sarabande [3:03]; III. Scherzino [2:40]; IV. Barcarole [3:28])
Leo BROUWER (b. 1939)
Rito de los Orishas (1993): (I. Exordium-conjuro [4:44]; II. Danza de las diosas negras [9:31])
Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
Guitar Sonata, Op. 47 (1976): (I. Esordio [3:40]; II. Scherzo [3:00]; III. Canto [3:56]; IV. Finale [2:27])
Roland DYENS (b. 1955)
Triaela (2001-2002): (I. Light Motif (Takemitsu au Brésil) [3:37]; II. Black Horn (When Spain meets Jazz) [4:33]; III. Clown Down (Gismonti au cirque) [5:05])
Thomas Viloteau (guitar)
rec. 3-6 May 2007, St. John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada
NAXOS LAUREATE SERIES 8.570510 [60:57]


The last collection of guitar music to come my way was a thoroughly enjoyable MDG disc of Heinrich Albert Duos. Although it’s not my usual fare I have returned to that recording many times, savouring its mix of exuberance and technical excellence. This latest offering in the Naxos Laureate Series is very different. It features a daunting selection of 20th century pieces played by the 21-year-old Frenchman Thomas Viloteau, winner of the 2006 Guitar Foundation of America competition.

It’s good that adventurous recording companies such as Naxos are prepared to take a chance on new talent, so full marks there. But is Viloteau one of those young stars who burn brightly for a while and then disappear? Well, he has had all the right training – with big names in both Barcelona and Paris – but does he have the personality, the charisma to match?

Barcelona-born Miguel Llobet was one of the most influential guitarists of the early 20th century and a profound influence on Segovia. His Sor Variations are not about empty virtuosity but they are technically demanding (especially variation seven). There is real concentration, an intensity, about this piece that Viloteau communicates very well, not to mention a lovely, warm lyricism that illuminates his playing at times.

Hearing the great Segovia play in Paris in 1925 was enough to kindle Tansman’s interest in the guitar. His Cavatina also has a winning lyricism and, in the Preludio, some unusual harmonies too. The Sarabande seems much more like a meditation than a dance but there is more flamboyance in the Scherzino, with its animated, rhythmical writing. The Barcarole has a gentle lilt and some remarkably clear, crisp articulation. Viloteau’s command of the instrument is never in doubt, although one might feel there is not much personality in the playing. The close, dry recording doesn’t allow the guitar much room to ‘sing’ either; this is a pity, especially in the more lyrical moments.

The Cuban guitarist-composer Leo Brouwer’s Rito de los Orishas taps into a very different – African – past (Orishas is a Yoruban word for gods). Don’t expect outlandish harmonies and wild rhythms though; the music is surprisingly spare, skeletal almost. The dance that follows is rather more sensuous, although there is an economy of style so welcome in music that can so easily become overheated. Viloteau is certainly alive to the variegated colours of this music and produces some ravishing sounds. A piece well worth hearing for its understated sophistication (and as an entrée to Brouwer’s work).

The Ginastera Sonata has more of a Latin flavour. Esordio is essentially a prelude and Scherzo has some very deft and challenging fingerwork. It is astounding some of the effects Ginastera demands – and gets – in this virtuoso score. Once again Viloteau finds some delectable colours and, in Canto, achieves something of the same intensity and focus that characterises the Sor Variations. And just when one might think his playing is a little too self-effacing he pulls off a coruscating Finale. Impressive stuff.

Viloteau studied with Tunisian-born Roland Dyens, whose Triaela is dedicated to the Greek guitarist Elena Papandreou. The composer is strongly influenced by jazz and rock and in this three-movement piece he asks for scordatura or retuning of the bass strings. In the impressionistic first movement – a tribute to Japanese composer Tōru Takemitsu (1930-1996) – Viloteau manages to capture the characteristic shimmer and shift of the latter’s work. A more forgiving acoustic would probably have added even more atmosphere to the playing but that’s a minor quibble, really.

The Latin and jazz elements are fused in Black Horn, which also has a somewhat improvisatory feel. The retuning results in some startling sonorities. That said it’s not as evocative as Light Motif. By contrast Clown Down, a homage to Brazilian guitarist-composer Egberto Gismonti (b. 1947), is a real tour de force. I’ve never heard anything quite like it, with its repeated notes, pizzicatos, chord bursts and shimmering bass. The retuned strings really add an air of otherness to the music (there are even some riffs). It’s a highly individual piece that makes extraordinary demands on the guitarist. Needless to say Viloteau is more than equal to the task.

This is one of those CDs that just doesn’t reveal its strengths on first hearing. Initially one might be tempted to mark it down for what seems to be an unvarying programme played with plenty of precision but not enough passion. Subsequent auditions tend to confirm these impressions, although one’s respect for this young virtuoso actually deepens. Minor caveats aside, Viloteau remains a prodigious talent. Definitely one to watch.

Dan Morgan



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