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Jonathan Woolf
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Discs for review may be sent to:
Jonathan Woolf
76 Lushes Road
Essex IG10 3QB
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Charles GOUNOD

March Funèbre d’une marionette
(1873) [4.22]
Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987)
Canciones y Danzas
(Songs and Dances) (Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11) [22.57]
Joaquin TURINA (1882–1949)
La Oracion del Torero
(Torero’s Prayer) (1925) [7.26]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887–1959)
(1914) [3.57]
Choros No. 5: “Alma Brasileira” [4.55]
Valsa da Dor (Waltz of Sorrow) (1932) [4.36]
Bachiana Brasileira No. 4: “Cantiga” [5.45]
Joaquín RODRIGO (1901–1999)
Zarabanda Lejana
(Distant Saraband) (1926) [5.03]
Jose Luis PERALES (b. 1945)
Porque te Vas
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860–1909)/Leopold GODOWSKY (1870–1938)
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921–1992)
Invierno Porteno
(1965) [6.32]
Boris VIAN (1920–1959)/Jimmy WALTER
Tango Interminable des perceurs de coffre-forts
(1950) [4.28]
Quatuor de Guitares de Versailles (Michel Grizard, Nicolas Courtin, Jean-François Fourichon, Philippe Rayer)
rec. 21-22 August 2007,  L’Auditorium d’Alençon
QUANTUM QM7045 [75.59]
Experience Classicsonline

The Versailles Guitar Quartet was founded in 1987. It was the first ensemble of its type in France.
The guitar quartet has an interesting history. The first work for such an ensemble seems to have been written in the early 19th century: Antoine Lhoyer’s Theme with variations and dialogue, written around 1815. But it was only in the 20th century that regular ensembles came to be formed. The Munich Guitar Quartet performed with success from 1907 to around 1920. The Spanish guitarists, the Romeros, father and son, with other family members, formed Los Romeros quartet in 1961. In Argentina the Cuarteto Martinez Zarate was formed in 1968.
Inevitably the repertoire for such groups is heavily dependent on transcriptions. On this new disc, the Versailles give us an attractive selection of their own transcriptions, the majority based on Spanish originals.
A feature of the disc is the selection of seven items from Mompou’s Canciones y Danzas. Mompou wrote these miniatures, based on old Catalan popular songs, for piano solo. The piano originals have a deceptive and elegant simplicity and the quartet have preserved this in their transcriptions, surrounding the melody line with some wonderfully transparent textures.
Mompou divided his time between his native Barcelona and Paris, and it was in Paris that he made the acquaintance of Heitor Villa-Lobos. Though Villa-Lobos wrote extensively for the guitar, the quartet have mined his other works for their transcriptions. Perhaps these are remarkably successful, or maybe the guitar was always lurking in the recesses of Villa-Lobos’s music, but you would hardly guess that these pieces were not written for this combination of instruments. Ondulando is a piano study, dating from 1914. Both this and Choros No. 5 take the form of a melody line surrounded by a richly-textured accompaniment. Choros No.5 was also originally written for piano; it is subtitled Alma Brasileira (Soul of Brasil) and like all the Choros, is inspired by Brasilian street music. Valsa da Dor (Waltz of Sorrow) is another haunting piece, dating from 1932. The Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 has some of the most complex textures on the disc.
Villa-Lobos’s near contemporary, Joaquín Turina wrote music that was distinctively Spanish whilst never being overly so. His piece La Oracion del Torero was originally written in 1925 for a group of Spanish lutes. He later re-arranged it for string quartet and string orchestra. So the guitar quartet’s transcription returns the work to something like its original roots. The piece was inspired by Turina seeing a torero meditating in a chapel close to the Madrid bull ring. It contrasts the torero’s religious meditation with the lively noise of the banda playing near the bull ring.
Nearly twenty years younger than Turina, Joaquín Rodrigo did write for guitar quartet, including the Concierto Andaluz. His Zarabanda Lejana (Distant Saraband) was originally a guitar piece, which Rodrigo transcribed for piano and for string orchestra.
Piano virtuoso Leopold Godowsky created his own pianistic version of Albeniz’s Tango and this transcription attempts to re-create Godowsky’s richly-patterned score on a guitar quartet. The result is a haunting and charming version of the original.
Film-maker Carlos Saura used No. 6 of Mompou’s Canciones y Danzas in his film Cria Cuervos. The film also included Jose Luis Perales’s funky popular song Porque te vas during the credits. So inevitably both items have found their way together onto the disc, which is itself dedicated to Saura.
Astor Piazzolla’s Las cuatro estaciones portenas depicts the four seasons as seen by the Ports folk (as compared to the Pampas folk), inspired by Vivaldi’s work. Originally written for a quintet of violin, piano, electric guitar, double-bass and bandoneon, the guitar quartet transcription of Winter is one of a long line of transcriptions of this fascinating and infectious music.
Finally Nicolas Courtin shows that he doesn’t just play the guitar as he takes the vocals in Boris Vian’s song Tango interminable des perceus de coffre-forts (The Safe-crackers, A boring tango) - a lovely end to a charming disc.
Musically the performances of the guitar quartet are impeccable. The transcriptions give all the pieces a lovely transparency and a gorgeous sense of texture. This is a disc to put on the player and just sit back and enjoy.
Robert Hugill


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