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Fernando SOR (1778-1839)
Etude No. 5 [2:42]; Etude No. 6 [2:11]; Grand Solo Op. 14 [10:00]; Etude No. 13 [3:49]; Etude No. 17 [4:33]; Etude No. 19 [3:16]; Etude No. 1 [1:17]; Etude No. 20 [3:25]
Mauro Giuseppe Sergio Pantaleo GIULIANI (1781-1829)
Variazioni su un tema di Handel per Chitarra Op. 107 [9:26]; Rossiniana No. 1 Op. 119 [17:56]
Roland Dyens (guitar)
Quatuor Arthur-LeBlanc: (Hibiki Kobayashi, Brett Molzan (violins); Jean-Luc Plourde (viola); Ryan Molzan (cello))
rec. 18-20 February 2006, Francoys-Bernier Concert Hall, Domaine Forget, Saint-Irénée, Quebec. DDD
ATMA ACD22397 [58:35]


One of the legacies of the great instrumentalist-composers is the studies they wrote to train students and future generations of musicians. These often combine striking musical beauty with challenging didactic content. When fingers ache and body weakens the spirit is shored by tantalizing melodies and harmonies.

Along with the luminous sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and the immortal studies of Chopin, Catalan guitarist-composer Fernando Sor wrote what are arguably the most beautiful and outstanding studies for the classical guitar. These exhibit qualities comparable to those of the studies written by the aforementioned composers for their respective instruments.

From Sor’s prolific output Andrés Segovia selected twenty studies that were published as a discrete set. These have become an integral part of concert guitar training.

The review disc is interesting and unique in that it presents some of the Sor studies included in the Segovia edition but in a very different format. French guitarist Roland Dyens has arranged six of them for guitar and string quartet. He describes the project as ‘a dream I have had for a long time.’ In study No. 1 (7), the guitar is entirely eliminated. While what we have here follows the Segovia edition numbering, there are departures from Segovia’s editing. An example can be found in measures 31-34 of Study No. 6.

Also presented for solo guitar is Sor’s Grand Sonata Op. 14 and two of Mauro Giuliani’s better known works: Variations on Handel’s Harmonious Blacksmith for solo guitar and Rossiniana No.1, Op. 119 with string quartet accompaniment.

Roland Dyens, performer, composer, improvisor and arranger, was born in 1955. He commenced playing the guitar at the age of nine and in 1968 became a student of Spanish master Alberto Ponce. He later studied with Désiré Dondeyne including classes in composition. Since the beginning of his career he has received many major awards. These include the Grand Prix du Disque of the Académie Charles-Cros and the special prize of the international competition Citta di Alessandria (Italy). Both were awarded in recognition of homages to Villa-Lobos. Dyens is currently professor at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris.

In general these solos by Sor have been capably arranged for string quartet accompaniment. Some have simple accompaniment while in others the changes are more radical. The guitar part for Study No. 5 is presented in its entirety while it is totally eliminated in No. 1.

As may be anticipated in such an undertaking, the results are varied. The guitar often sounds relegated to the status of a melodic instrument, overpowered by its more sustaining stringed associates. In Studies No. 6 (2) and No. 17 (5) the benefits of string accompaniment do not compensate for the loss that occurs when the guitar’s polyphonic prowess in the solo versions is disguised. It may be more than coincidental that Study No. 20, having received the most embellished accompaniment, also sounds the best in its new context.

Of all the studies that Sor wrote, No. 19 in B flat major from the Segovia edition (6) is an absolute favourite of this writer. It has a uniquely appealing musical content and is technically demanding, if not impossible, for the mere mortal to play well. The stretch challenges for the left-hand are exacerbated in that it was written for a guitar with a shorter string length than the modern concert instrument*. Although the one that appears to have been a priority in Dyens’ ambitions, Study No. 19 fares worst in these arrangements of Sor’s studies; the guitar part is nonetheless played very well. In all fairness who could improve on an original composition of profound perfection?

Association is a powerful force in daily life and I am unable to dissociate any hearing of the William Tell Overture from tales of The Lone Ranger to which I listened as a child. Similarly, renditions of the famous slow movement from Borodin’s String Quartet No 2 are invariably accompanied mentally by lyrics from Kismet.

For those who may never have heard the Sor studies as solo pieces, this recording will provide much entertainment and enjoyment. The arrangements are generally well done and the instrumentalists perform to a high standard. For those familiar with the music the ‘association demon’ may be too distracting.

The solo music played by Roland Dyens is up to the standard expected from a world-renowned guitarist. Well played as the Sor Op. 14 (3) is by Dyens, when it comes to rendition of this music Julian Bream remains supreme.

This is a most interesting and enjoyable recording driven by a musician of significant ability and creativity. Some purists may have difficulty with it and for others unavoidable association with the past may be too distracting. All in all the creativity, musicianship, and superb sonic quality of the recording are to be admired.

This disc also demonstrates that like much of the Beatles’ output, quality music is generally adaptable, flexible and amenable to competent arrangement even across the genres.

Zane Turner

NOTE: *While string length is not the only factor that affects a guitar’s playability, longer lengths increase the distance the fingers have to stretch in difficult positions. During the romantic era when Sor composed his studies, 630mm was a common length. From the early 1960s to the late 1980s the maker preferred by most concert guitarists, including Segovia, was Jose Ramirez III. During that period a typical string length for guitars by Ramirez was 664mm although he made them up to 670mm. Ramirez was not alone: guitars by Rubio, Khono and Ruck were all made with string lengths 664-667mm. The great Spanish master Jose Luis Gonzalez (1932-1998) despite smaller hands, played the longer string length Ramirez guitars through most of his career. His rendition of the Sor study No. 19 (CBS BR 235128) is exquisite. Today the more universally desired length is 650mm. On this occasion Roland Dyens plays a fine guitar by Canadian luthier Daryl Perry which, if standard, has a string length of 650mm.


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