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Fernando SOR (1778-1839)
Grande Sonate, Op. 25 (1827) [30:11]
Sonate, Op. 15b (1810/1822) [9:25]
Grand Solo, Op. 14 (1822) [10:36]
Grande Sonate, Op. 22 (1825) [27:44]
Ricardo Gallén (guitar)
rec. 5-7 September 2013, Iglesia de San Miguel, Cuanca, Castile-La Mancha, Spain
Reviewed in SACD stereo
EUDORA EUD-SACD-1401 [77:54]

Once in a while it pays to stray from the well-trodden tracks, and that’s exactly what I’ve done with this set of guitar sonatas. Penned by the Catalan composer Fernando Sor, who spent a number of years in London, these solo pieces are full of surprises. They are played here by Ricardo Gallén (b. 1972), who is also Professor of Guitar at the Hochschule für Musik ‘Franz Liszt’ in Weimar. I listened to the SACD but I see Eudora also offer their recordings as mp3s and, via e-Onkyo, as high-res downloads. That makes sense in this diverse and fast-evolving business, where more and more labels are supplementing their physical product with virtual ones.
This out-of-the-way repertoire is reasonably well represented in the catalogue, with Naxos leading the way as usual. For instance they’ve recorded Sor’s Opp. 22 and 25 with the American guitarist Adam Holzman (8.553340). Apart from their series devoted to this composer’s output Naxos have also buried some pieces within more general collections; BIS have done the same with Opp. 14 and 15b, played by Diego Bianco (BIS-CD-133). Fans of Julian Bream can hear the Menuetto and Rondo: Allegretto from Op. 22 on a recent compilation from Heritage (HTGCD 242); there’s almost nothing from Andrés Segovia, though.
As for Ediciones Eudora they are new to me, and I was pleasantly surprised to see they support SACD. First impressions of Op. 25 are entirely favourable; the brief, tolling intro of the Andante - Largo is beautifully articulated and Gallén plucks some gorgeous tunes from the mix. That process of easeful excavation is a notable feature of this recital as a whole. Rhythms are nicely varied and Gallén shapes it all so well. Indeed, anyone who is normally averse to the classical guitar will be astonished at the expressive range and buoyancy of these pieces.
There’s an irresistible joie de vivre to much of Op. 25 – the songful Allegro non troppo in particular - and I was more than happy to yield to its charms. At times it’s akin to a spirited dialogue, the opposing ‘voices’ of which are characterised with subtlety and flair. Goodness, this is moreish music, winningly presented. Some may feel the sound is a tad close, but that highlights the absorbing detail and dexterity of Gallén’s playing. The Menuetto, combining as it does elegance and wit, is a prime example of his ability to contrast and clarify Sor’s tunes and textures.
That same deftness informs the freewheeling Op. 15b, but alas the ride is all too short. Anyone who feels that Sor’s music wants for colour will surely waver and retract once they’ve heard how much of it Gallén unearths. Indeed, listening to this little gem again only deepened my respect and admiration for composer and performer alike. The nimble progress and jewelled flourishes of Op. 14 are also delightful, as is the the sense of genial engagement that pervades the entire collection. This too is a ride, a journey through sun-dappled landscapes, in which Gallén knows all the important sights and landmarks.
The Allegro of Op. 22 has a declamatory power that Gallén projects with just a hint of asperity; such details can be too aggressively inked, so it’s a relief that dynamics are so judiciously shaded. The twirls and curlicues of the Adagio are also well handled; this time it seems one's eavesdropping on another's solitary but contented musings. As expected the Menuetto is spry – no aged or creaking joints here – and the disc concludes with a lovely, aerated Rondo. In short, a perfect end to a perfect recital.
Sor and Gallén both shine brightly; a treat, and not just for guitar fans either.

Dan Morgan