There are few areas of daily life into which the pervasive tentacles
of fashion do not reach. Influenced by fashion, the way in which
a piece of Baroque music is played today is almost certainly
quite different to the way in which it was played when composed.
Music composed a century ago is played differently over ensuing
decades as perception and fashion influence interpretation.
The review disc is a refreshing addition in a field strongly
influenced by fashion and change, the majority of which is to
the detriment of the music. The modern schools of guitar often
shun many of the techniques that made Andrés Segovia both a
magnificent exponent of his instrument and a captivating musician.
In some schools the right-hand technique, apoyando, is considered
irrelevant; gone are the arpeggiated chords, and rubato is expunged
from the performer’s dictionary. Players often have to slavishly
adhere to such guidelines in order to win competitions, and
generally produce a rather barren, sterile and monotone sound.
Ian Watt is a young classical guitarist from Scotland who made
his debut in 2005. The liner notes and most references are fairly
scant on biographical details, but as Watt was 18 when he won
the silver medal at the 2009 Christopher Parkening Competition,
we may safely assume he was born in 1991 and only 20 when the
review disc was recorded. During the period 2003-2008 Watt studied
at the Aberdeen City Music School, and at present is a student
at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, studying with
Alan Neave. In addition to his success in the Parkening Competition,
Watt was a finalist in the BBC Classical Star 2007 and Aberdeen
Young Musician of the Year 2007.
Ian Watt is a keen advocate of contemporary music and has collaborated
with Gordon McPherson, Rory Boyle, and most recently John McLeod
who wrote a concerto for Watt, his first composition for the
The programme, as suggested by the title of the disc, comprises
opera entirely from the pens of Spanish composers (see composer
notes at the end of this review). There is always a risk of
ennui when presenting a disc of very familiar repertory. One
has to be intrepid to commence the programme with the over-done
Asturias by Albeniz. Despite its virtues, the frequency
of recording is probably exceeded only by the ubiquitous Vivaldi’s
Four Seasons. However, Watt rescues the situation in
two ways: the music is presented in the context of the entire
Suite, Op. 232, something rarely encountered on a guitar disc.
He also presents a splendid rendition of this Prelude which
endows the music with a reinvigorated guise.
From the beginning of this disc it is very evident that Watt’s
approach to the guitar is quite divergent from the academically-cloned
style prevalent among the current generation of guitarist. He
is a strong exponent of the apoyando which allows the player
strength and judicious attack in his playing. The music enjoys
stronger melodic emphasis, a broader palette of tonal colours
and greater dynamic range. Watt confesses to using apoyando
more than is fashionable, but notes that while it does give
great focus to the sound it is also often impractical if there
are independent voices on consecutive strings, which is often
the case. Playing in this style also has repercussions that
some may find less desirable. Listeners will note in some of
the passages distinct bass-string buzzes (tr. 1 [2:56]). These
can be eliminated by a more timid approach, or by careful editing
of the final recording. It is part and parcel of a much more
dynamic approach to playing the guitar and, for this reviewer,
enjoyable to hear it again on a classical guitar recording after
so many years.
Having listened to the classical guitar over the past several
decades I remain unconvinced that all that has happened during
this period of evolution is positive. It is encouraging to hear
a young player so superbly embrace some of the characteristics
that defined great players of the past such as Andrés Segovia
and his disciple Jose Luis Gonzalez (1932-98). This takes strength
of conviction and in a field of ever-increasing size, this disc
is outstanding. Ian Watt does however point out that while a
strong exponent of the apoyando, his use is less than Segovia
or Julian Bream. Like the latter, Watt also often changes the
angle of his hand for tonal control and chordal balance.
One of the other interesting aspects of this recording is the
choice of instrument. Only the most perceptive listener will
detect that in fact two different instruments are used. Again,
departing from current fashion, Watt uses traditional fan-braced
guitars with spruce tops. For the Albeniz Suite he plays an
instrument by Karl-Heinz Roemmich, made in 2011. For the remainder
an instrument made in 2010 by Jochen Roethal is employed.
This is an excellent recording, in every sense.
Finally, my appreciation to Ian Watt for sharing the information
about the instruments he plays on this disc. This is a guitarist
about whom we will be hearing a lot in the future.
The great Spanish composer and virtuoso pianist who composed music highly evocative of his homeland, some of it written abroad. Arranged for guitar initially by Francisco Tarrega, many of the pieces are more famous for their adopted instrument than for the piano.
Manuel de Falla
A highly respected Spanish composer, Falla’s compositions include music for opera, ballet, and orchestra as well as group and solo instrument. Acknowledged for great precision in composing, the homage to Debussy is his only work for solo guitar.
The blind Spanish composer is best known for his guitar concerto, Concierto de Aranjuez
. He also wrote a number of pieces for solo guitar; the homage to Falla is a good example of his competence and creativity.
Born Antonio Jose Martinez Palacios, he later dropped the surnames. Maurice Ravel believed he would be the Spanish musician of the century. In 1936 he met the same fate as his friend Federico Garcia Lorca who was executed by a Falangist firing squad. Although a prodigious composer, his work lay forgotten until the 1980s. His most famous work is the Sonata for Guitar.
Considered to be the Modern Awakener of the Guitar, Tarrega was a master at composition of harmonically exquisite miniatures. As well as treasured original compositions, he also left expert guitar arrangements of music from other instruments.