Fernando SOR (1778-1839)
Three Etudes, Op.29: No. 23 in G Major [2:45] No 13 in B flat Major
[5:27] No. 17 in C Major [3:30]
Morceau de concert, Op. 54: Andante Largo [1:52] Thème Varié
[11:32] Allegro [4:27]
Leçon, Op. 31 No. 16 [2:42]
Mazurka, Op 43, No. 4 [5:20]
Waltz, Op. 32, No. 2 [2:25]
Le Calme, Op. 50 [9:18]
Three Studies: Op.60, No. 22 [1:58] Op. 35, No. 17 [2:55] Op.35,
Leçon, Op.31, No.23 [2:44]
William Carter (guitar)
rec. 17-19 May 2010, St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, UK.
LINN CKD 380
Historically informed performance (HIP) has spawned a whole
new era of preoccupation with original scores, authentic instruments
and the ways in which the music may originally have been
performed. Though it is only a relatively recent introduction
to the concert platforms of the world, the classical guitar
has not escaped this trend in musical interpretation and performance.
The review disc presents some of the later works by the great
Catalan composer/guitarist Fernando Sor, played by American
guitarist William Carter on a copy of a period instrument. Carter
notes the relative lack of interest by the current generation
of concert guitarist in the works of Sor and believes that this,
and his previous recording, represent the only all-Sor recordings
to be played in period style using exclusively the fingertips
of the right-hand fingers for plucking the strings.
Those familiar with the classical guitar will be aware that
the modern practice of using a nail/flesh combination when striking
the strings with the right-hand fingers was refined and championed
by Andrés Segovia in the twentieth century. Providing
greater volume, a much wider palette of tonal colours, and when
perfected a beautiful, focused, sonorous sound, is the technique
preferred by the vast majority of modern guitarists.
Mr Carter takes several paragraphs in the liner-notes to explain
that Sor was a dedicatee of the flesh-only right-hand technique
of playing the guitar, and in assessment of his contemporaries
felt the use of nails produced an inferior tone. Other aspects
of Sor’s technique presented include parsimonious use
of the ring finger of the right hand which, relative to the
others, has inherent weakness. Sor rarely used the third finger
for harmony and forbade it entirely for melody. When a four-note
chord, where the top note formed part of the melody appeared,
Sor admitted that he departed from his own rules. In his apparent
slavish pursuit of authenticity, Mr Carter does not comment
on Sor’s practice of placing the fourth finger of the
right hand on the sound-board of the guitar from time to time.
He also confesses that because of previous training and his
anatomy, the third finger is used more extensively, rather than
the second as practised by Sor. We are also left to wonder whether
he uses gut strings on his instruments, as Sor would have, or
employs modern strings. The less informed are also not further
assisted in relation to the instrument played by Carter as the
photograph supplied is of a Baroque guitar not a six-string
version as played by Sor.
One has only to listen to some of the masterpieces on this recording
to realise that, particularly harmonically, Fernando Sor wrote
some quite exquisite music for the guitar. Despite this, opinion
about the music is varied which may, in part, explain its current
relative absence from today’s concert guitar scene. Segovia
was never ebullient about Sor’s music although he recorded
some of the finer pieces. It is challenging to discern what
Tarrega thought about his fellow-countryman’s music. From
available evidence, he never played any of it in concert; that
was not unique to Sor, as Tarrega appears to have preferred
his own compositions or arrangements of popular music of the
day written for other instruments. One unequivocal fact is that
Sor wrote studies for the guitar which combine significant pedagogic
content with great musical beauty.
William Carter was born in Florida U.S.A. and received a thorough
training as a modern guitarist with Bruce Holzman at The Florida
State University. He then fell under the spell of earlier plucked
instruments and the world of historical performance. His initial
guidance in that new interest was with Pat O’Brian in
New York City. As a Fulbright scholar he travelled to London,
studying with Nigel North and quickly established himself as
one of the leading players on old instruments.
The performance on this disc adheres to the principles espoused
by the player. It also appears that every effort has been made
to eradicate individual traits of personality in the playing
and confine the renditions to strict, academic guidelines. Despite
the extensive information provided about Sor’s approach
to plucking the strings with fingertips only, this reviewer
remains unconvinced of its virtues. Irrespective of the doctrines
of HIP, the sound overall is rather bland and its predictability
over the entire CD becomes a little tiresome. The range of tonal
colours is zero and, regardless of the music, little effort
to vary dynamic range is evidenced. This is rather interesting
in that Carter refers to Segovia and Bream as paradigms of excellence
in Sor’s music. He also quotes Rachmaninov’s idea
that music is ‘sound and colour’.
The guitar’s relegation to the chamber/salon, and its
decline in popularity during the nineteenth century, were influenced
by the techniques pursued on this disc.
Playing with fingertips only has one other annoying aspect on
this recording. The sound of fingers moving on the bass strings
is an accepted characteristic of the classical guitar and better
players are able to control it. In this instance the sounds
of the actual notes are so subdued that every string-squeak
becomes that much more relatively conspicuous and distracting;
the background of much of this recording is a cacophony of string
squeaks, particularly evident on high quality reproducing equipment.
There is every possibility that Sor, hearing his compositions
played on a modern guitar by a virtuoso employing nail/flesh
combination, would prefer that rendition over his own. We have
no way of knowing how refined the nail technique of his contemporary
Aguado was, but the attitude of Sor suggest that Andrés
Segovia did much to advance and refine tone production on the
guitar during the twentieth century.
Full credit to Mr Carter for informative and well-written liner-notes.
Very touching is the story included by Don Eusebio Font y Moresco
about visiting Sor in the last days of his life. It may give
us greater insight into the sentiments that engulfed him when
he wrote music such as the exquisite Study No. 14 from the Segovia
Those with a penchant for donning period attire and driving
their model T Ford on Sundays will probably enjoy this recording.
Those who embrace the progress made in guitar design and acknowledge
the magnificent legacy of tone production on the guitar made
by Segovia in the twentieth century will probably classify it
as an anachronistic novelty.