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Mauro GIULIANI (1781-1829)
Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra no 1 in A major op 30 (1808?) [30:18]
Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra no 2 in A major op 36 (1812) [29:44]
Edoardo Catemario (guitar)
Wiener Akademie/Martin Haselbock
rec. Hofburg Chapel, Vienna, November 2002, DDD
ARTS 47688-8 [60:02]

Ideal late-night listening … and none the worse for it. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The great leap forward for the guitar and its associated repertoire occurred toward the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th when a sixth string was added to the instrument. Suddenly it seemed to become much more popular and attract both virtuoso performers and, as was common with other instruments at the time, virtuoso performer-composers. Thus the careers of Italian and Spanish exponents, such as Carulli, Sor, Aguado, Gragni and possibly the greatest of them all, Mauro Giuliani rose to prominence. Their activities centred on Paris and Vienna, Europe’s joint musical capitals.
Giuliani was Italian, born in Bisceglie - not far from Bari - on 27 July 1781. His background in his native country is sketchy to say the least, but he emerges onto the pages of musical history around 1806 when he appears as an accomplished performer working in Vienna. He was well known in musical circles, apparently playing cello in the premiere of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. He also worked regularly with Moscheles and Hummel in the Austrian capital and enjoyed a solid reputation … which alas did not continue following his return to Italy in 1819. Ignored by several native publishing houses, including Ricordi, he died in Naples in 1829.
He composed over 150 catalogued works as well as leaving some in manuscript. Among his most successful were three guitar concertos, the first two of which appear on this disc. It is debatable whether he was actually the first to write such a composition - Carulli being the other candidate for the honour - but Giuliani was certainly among the first to do so.
As far as we can tell the first concerto emerged in Vienna around 1808. It appears in two published versions in 1810, for strings alone and for strings and woodwind - a version believed to bear the imprint of Hummel. It is the strings-only accompaniment performed here. After a somewhat “correct” sonata-driven opening movement the siciliana is a delight, as is the rondo alla polacca finale. Catemario and his colleagues really seem to be enjoying themselves here!
Concerto no 2, printed in 1812, is a little more complex and slightly more personal, even introverted. As I listened to the central andantino, a particularly graceful movement, with its almost gently “confiding” tone, it certainly conjured images in my mind of delightful evening strolls in the gardens of southern Spain … such is the power of music!
Performance and recording to my mind are exemplary. The use of period strings allows the overall sound-image to remain gentle but with just a little “edge”, thus preventing the whole from sounding too smooth or mushy. Catemario meanwhile seems to make light of any difficulties in the solo part. He plays these works, incidentally, on one of Giuliani’s own guitars, the “Pons l’aine”.
Instrument maker Cesar Pons initially plied his trade in Grenoble. A famed exponent in guitar, violin, harp and hurdy-gurdy manufacture he passed his skills on to his two sons, Joseph (l’aine…the elder) and Louis David. Joseph however seems to have had more drive than his brother or father. It was he who made the break with the Alpine region, moving his workshop to Paris, where he was eventually joined by his family a few years later.
It was in the capital, in 1825, that he made the instrument used in this recording. Identical to one produced for Empress Marie-Louise of Hapsburg (wife of Napoleon); its “twin” eventually ended up in the composer’s hands too, when it was presented to Giuliani by the monarch not long before he died.
Its beautiful and gentle tone adds further distinction to a very pleasurable disc … although sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that at least part of this SACD has been issued previously. The 1st concerto partnered two Haydn symphonies on a cover-mount disc with the BBC Music Magazine (Volume 12 no. 5). There it was presented in conventional CD stereo, although in truth I can’t discern much difference between the two. The current disc may be slightly warmer and more rounded … but it’s marginal.
All in all, whilst it’s a well-worn cliché to say this SACD is “ideal late-night listening” … that’s exactly what it is … and none the worse for it. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would certainly be interested to hear these artists again in similar repertoire.
Ian Bailey


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