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Alhambra - Spanish Guitar Music
Track listing below review
Tilman Hoppstock (guitar)
rec. 1995-2009, Heidelberg, Germany.

With sensitive musical nuance German guitarist Tilman Hoppstock manages to ‘Wake into voice each silent string, / And sweep the sounding lyre!’ (Alexander Pope, ‘Ode on St Cecilia’s Day’).

Born in Barcelona to a well-to-do family, Fernando Sor dissented from his family’s military legacy, moved to France and pursued a career in music. Sor’s Variationen uber ein Thema von Mozart op. 9 remains one of his most popular compositions and ranks highly as one of the cornerstones of classical guitar repertoire. Based on a melody (‘Das klinget so herrlich, das klinget so schon!’) from The Magic Flute, which Mozart composed in 1791, this piece has been described by Brian Jeffrey (author of ‘Fernando Sor: Composer and Guitarist’ (1977)) as music wherein ‘no space is wasted’ as it ‘devotes itself not to ‘guitaristic’ effects but only to itself’. Accordingly, Hoppstock’s performance is modest and unassuming, coinciding with the open-ended freedom Sor allows in his score.

A live recording of Francisco Tarrega’s 5 Mazurken offers the listener five miniatures of Spanish Romanticism. With lush resonance, Hoppstock brings out the influences of Chopin and reminds the listener of Germaine Tailleferre’s heartfelt Arabesques for Clarinet and Piano. Though conservative in his compositional style, as a performer Tarrega was known as ‘the Sarasate of the guitar’. Considered to have laid the foundations for 20th century classical guitar music, Tarrega — along with his friend Albeniz — combined the existing Romantic trend with Spanish folkloric elements.

Manuel de Falla’s Tanz des Mullers is a good example of how Tarrega opened the door to a more rustic and Hispanic sound. The principal organiser of ‘El Concurso del Cante Jondo’ (Contest of the Deep Song), a celebration of the art of flamenco held in Granada on Corpus Christi, de Falla stated that: ‘The excellence of natural Andalusian melody is revealed by the fact that it is the only music continuously and abundantly used by foreign composers’. Attempting to restore purity, Moorish essences and enthusiasm in this style of music, de Falla and the poet Federico Garcia Lorca suggested that the most authentic and imaginative melodies flower from the stem of folkloric tradition.
Tarrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra allows Hoppstock to showcase his impeccable tremolo where a single note is plucked consecutively in quick succession to result in the illusion of one long sustained note, as the thumb plays a counter-melody. Moving from A minor to A major, the melancholy of this piece is resolved through an uplifting key change.

A composer of operas and often associated with the zarzuela — a Spanish lyric-drama that alternates between sung and spoken scenes, the former incorporating both operatic and popular song and dance — Federico Moreno-Torroba’s works for guitar traverse a musical vocabulary peppered with experimentation and avant-garde improvisation. Often described as ‘castizo’, Moreno-Torroba’s style blends folk elements extracted from the traditions of Iberian culture amalgamated with an evocative infusion of a specific place, mood or type of dance. Hoppstock extrapolates this richness through the energy and poetic sensibility of Fandanguillo and Nocturno. From his Suite Castellana, Moreno-Torroba’s Fandanguillo is played with passion and integrity. The candour and intimacy of the more well-known Nocturno exposes the melancholy confessional nature of the music. Using the different textures of the classical guitar, Hoppstock produces a timeless sound as he floods each piece with light.

Albeniz was inspired by the sound of the guitar in much of his writing for piano, He wanted ‘the Arabic Granada, that which is art, which is all that seems to me beauty and emotion’ in his music. His compositions fit seamlessly into a guitar arrangement. Depicting different regions and musical genres of Spain, Albeniz’s Suite Espanola op. 47 consists of works written in 1886 which were grouped together in 1887 in honour of the Queen of Spain. Performing Cataluna from Albeniz’s Suite Espanola, Hoppstock’s steady pace and simplicity give this work a Baroque feel. With a characteristically clean and unaffected performance, Hoppstock gives Albeniz’s music a more refined feel which resounds in his final emphatically played chord in Asturias. Through careful phrasing and steady structure, this player's clear style is suffused with Hispanic air.

Combining Hispanic folklore and French impressionism, Manuel de Falla’s Homenaje (Homage for Debussy) was written in 1919, the year following Debussy’s death. Speaking of ‘sensations’, philosopher Bertrand Russell stated in ‘The Problems of Philosophy’ that: ‘It is not only colours and sounds and so on that are absent from the scientific world of matter, but also space as we get it through sight or touch’. Interestingly, through Debussy’s pictorial imagination and feeling for harmonic colour, a sense of space and attachment to folk song can be glimpsed in de Falla’s Homenaje.

Using a flamenco guitar to play Paco de Lucia’s Granaina and Taranta as well as Manuel de Falla’s Tanz des Mullers, the textures are more earthy and percussive. With less sustain than a classical guitar, Hoppstock, who uses the toque style of strumming, sounds drier and brighter. This particularly evident when playing de Falla’s flurry of notes with strong rhythm and panache. Adding tremolo and rasgueado — strumming done with outward flicks of the right hand fingers, which gives a rhythmic roll reminiscent of the ballador’s feet and the clap of castanets — Hoppstock exposes music's fiery kernel. In an interview in the late 1990s, de Lucia, a composer with a great sense of his own musical identity, commented:-

I have never lost the roots in my music, because I would lose myself. What I have tried to do is have a hand holding onto tradition and the other scratching, digging in other places, trying to find new things I can bring into flamenco.

It seems trite to say that the compositions from a musician who ‘learned the guitar as a child learned to speak’ are authentic and stimulating. It is thanks to de Lucia that the possibilities for flamenco continue to develop in the 21st century.

Tilman Hoppstock here picks out a selection of evocative pieces and allows the listener to accompany him on a musical sortie through Andalusian Spain.
Lucy Jeffery
Track listing
Regino Sainz de la MAZA (1896-1981)
El Vito [1.27]
Fernando SOR (1778-1839)
Variationen uber ein Thema von Mozart op. 9 [7.31]
Francisco TARREGA (1852-1909)
5 Mazurken [7.59]
Federico MORENO-TORROBA (1891-1983)
Fandanguillo [1.40]
Nocturno [3.32]
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)
El Polo from Iberia [4.22]
Cataluna from Suite Espanol op. 47 [3.24]
Tango from Espana op. 165 [2.53]
Asturias from Suite Espanol op. 47 [6.19]
Francesco TARREGA (1852-1909)
Recuerdos de la Alhambra [3.53]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
Homenaje [3.14]
Paco de LUCIA (1947-2014)
Granaina [4.04]
Taranta [6.24]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
Tanz des Mullers [2.33]