The guitar-duo Siempre Nuevo was founded in October 2007 by the two Czech guitarists Matej Freml (b. 1982) and Patrick Vacik (b. 1984), when both were studying in Weimar, at the Liszt School of Music. They went on to continue their studies, as a duo, with Thomas Müller-Pering in the same conservatory. This is their first CD – made after a relatively brief, but successful, prize-winning career.
On the first four tracks here, arrangements of works by Scarlatti and Bach, the duo play on romantic period guitars; the rest of the music is performed on modern instruments.
Their Scarlatti has charm and is generally beguiling; this is particularly true of K.208. In the two allegros, K.491 and K.333, one misses the sheer incisiveness of the harpsichord or, for that matter, the dynamic range available in performances on the modern piano. These are reservations about the appropriateness of the instrumentation - I like my Scarlatti a little more percussive than it can be with a pair of guitars. But about the skill of the performers one need have no reservations at all. The duo work together perfectly, here and elsewhere on the disc, their interplay and sense of dialogue everywhere impressive, their playing always mutually complementary.
Their one Bach piece (BWV 539) works well, played in an excellent transcription by the guitarist Tilman Hoppstock; melodic lines are clear, rhythmic patterns are precise without being rigid. There is a particularly pleasing sound in the lower register of the instruments and the whole has that quality of dignified dancing - the designs traced by more than merely human dancers - that is one aspect of Bach’s greatness. I could readily listen to more Bach in guitar-duo form, provided that the arrangements and the playing were of this quality.
Originally written for solo piano, Granados’s early set of seven waltzes (with an Introduction and a Coda) has long been appropriated by guitarists, whether played by a single instrument or, as here, by a duo. On the whole the music works well on the guitar and the associations of the instrument - and the inclinations of transcribers - can scarcely help but make the music more obviously ‘Spanish’ than Granados’ own piano score is. Siempre Nuevo respond well to the pleasant poetry of these pieces; the first (Melódico) is played with wit and an appreciation of the variety of Granados’s accents and the subtlety of his harmony; the second has the proper nobility - though here is one place where one yearns for the piano - while the third is played with uncloying melancholy and feels very Iberian; the brief allegro humororístico (No.4) has a complementary playfulness, moderated in the well-phrased allegretto that follows. Siempre Nuovo’s performance of the sixth waltz (in this accomplished transcription by Thomas Müller-Pering, clearly the work of someone who fully understands the possibilities of the instrumentation) is particularly impressive, full of warm feeling and instrumental dialogue, the last sustained to particular effect in the seventh waltz, responding to the interchanges between left and right hands in Granados’s original score. There is a pleasing elegance to the return of the first waltz in the Coda, played as it is with genuine charm. These Valses Poéticos have always struck me as attractive pieces and this is a pleasant version, worth hearing alongside the piano original.
Astor Piazzolla’s Tango Suite for two guitars – the only work in this programme originally written for guitar duo – was composed in 1985 for Sergio and Odair Assad. The two outer movements – both marked allegro – frame a central movement marked andante, rubato melanolico. It is a pattern Piazzolla was fond of, and in this sixteen-minute piece there are many characteristic Piazzollan touches, generally well articulated by Freml and Vacík, the rubato of the central movement particularly pleasing. Their playing here, and the completely idiomatic nature of the music, inclines me to wish that Siempre Nuevo had recorded a little more music specifically written for guitar-duo, rather than making quite so much use of transcriptions. Nevertheless, this is a promising first recording and the development of this duo should be well worth keeping and eye and ear on.