Maurice OHANA (1913 - 1992)
Tiento (1957) [5:23]
Si le jour paraît ... (1963-64) [28:46]
Cadran lunaire (1981-82) [21:49]
Graham Anthony Devine (guitar)
rec. St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Canada, 25-28 October 2007
NAXOS 8.570948 [55:58]

Of Gibraltarian and Andalusian lineage, Ohana spent his childhood in Morocco, Spain and the Basque region. Throughout his life he researched various aspects of flamenco as well as of African and medieval music. All of these strands are to be found in his music. His music for guitar is no exception since this instrument is often associated with Spain and Spanish composers. Ohana went far beyond the superficial aspects of Spanish music, so that his music is free from any stereotypical Iberian clichés.

His earliest work for guitar is the short Tiento that now features in many a guitarist’s repertoire. The music alludes to the Spanish tradition with hints of La Folia, of habanera as well as of De Falla’s Homenaje and Harpsichord Concerto, the whole successfully woven into this very fine work.

The rest of Ohana’s output for guitar lies in two substantial cycles Si le jour paraît … and Cadran lunaire. Composed for Narciso Yepes’ ten-string guitar, as was the guitar concerto Tres Graficos, Si le jour paraît … is a substantial suite in seven contrasting movements. These may at times be compared to Debussy’s Preludes in that most of them serve as short tone poems. The opening Temple is an introduction to the cycle or a ‘tuning-up’. The second movement Enueg (“complaint”) is percussive whereas the following Maya-Marsya is also rather tense alternating fast episodes and slower, more reflective ones. The next movement 20 avril (Planh) commemorates the execution on 20th April 1962 of a political prisoner by the Franco regime. The subtitle Planh (“plaint”) again refers to the world of medieval troubadours. This movement is quite impressive in spite of its concision. La chevelure de Bérénice (“Berenice’s Hair”) is clearly in the form of a tone poem referring both to the constellation known as Coma Berenices and to the classical story of the hair of Berenice II. The title of the next movement Jeu des quatre vents (“Game of the Four Winds”) clearly hints at what the music is about - a brilliant Scherzo. The cycle ends with an evocative Alba (“Dawn”).

Cadran lunaire is another substantial suite in four movements. The title is enigmatic since there is no such instrument as a moon dial. It may nevertheless suggest nocturnal or darker moods. Saturnal evokes the ancient Roman festival celebrating Saturn. Calmer episodes are interspersed with short-lived outbursts and short dance-like sections. The predominant mood is reflective. Jondo refers to canto jondo, music of celebration and lament. Sylva suggests forests, fields and the world of Pan. The final movement Candil (from the Latin ‘candere’ meaning ‘to shine or be white hot’) is a brilliant Toccata rounding-off the suite in a virtuosic and assertive way.

Ohana’s works for guitar are few in number but the quality and imagination of the music are of the highest order. The composer explored the guitar’s technical and expressive potential to the full without ever resorting to any extravagant playing technique. This does not mean that the music is easy to play. As far as I can judge, Graham Anthony Devine clearly loves this music and delivers superb readings in which technique and musicality make the best of these impressive works. They would definitely be heard more often were it not for the many demands they put on performers. The recording is very fine indeed and one of the best guitar sounds that I have ever heard. Ohana’s music may be quite demanding but it definitely repays repeated hearings. This is a very fine release.

Hubert Culot