Invocacion - Impressions of Spain
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909) Chants d’Espagne, Op. 232 (transcr. Watt) [27:03]
Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999) Invocacion y Danza (Homenaje a Manuel de Falla) [8:53]
Antonio JOSE (1902-1936) Sonata para guitarra [19:47]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946) Homenaje pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy [3:42]
Francisco TARREGA (1852-1909) Capriccio Arabe [5:22]
Ian Watt (guitar)
rec. May and August 2011, St John’s Church, Fetternear, Aberdeenshire.
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6172 [64:47]
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 guitar.
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.
An excellent recording in every sense.
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.