The Poetic Guitar
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) (arr. Caspar Joseph Mertz)
Lob der Tränen [4:08]
Die Post [3:16]
Das Fischermädchen [2:38]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Dichterliebe Op. 48 (1840, arr. Cordas 2005-11) [32:56]
Karel Arnoldus CRAEIJVANGER (1817-1868)
Introduction and Variations sur un thème de l’opera Der Freischütz (pub. 1847/8) [12:43]
Trois Nocturnes [11:38]
Fernando Riscado Cordas (guitar and author)
rec. Studio Helmbreker, The Netherlands, dates not given
Private label FRC0114 [56:23 + 24:21]
On face value it’s hard to know how to categorise this release. Either it’s a book with two CDs, or it’s a recording, the booklet notes of which got completely out of hand and ended up in a remarkable tome of over 300 pages. Author and guitarist Fernando Riscado Cordas freely admits that the latter was originally the case, though the luxury hardback presentation, superb range of photographs and illustrations and sheer depth of research has made this into an object which deserves pride of place on any library shelf. I have to admit an interest from the outset, having been hired to make the translation from Dutch to English. Half of your 300+ pages will indeed be in Dutch, but the whole thing is very good value for money even taking this into consideration.
The starting point for this volume and recording was the collection of arrangements of Schubert Songs made by Caspar Joseph Mertz, a 19th century guitar virtuoso well known to players and connoisseurs though not really a household name by comparison with others of the period. Inspired by this collection, Fernando Riscado Cordas took on the immense task of transcribing Robert Schumann’s complete song cycle Dichterliebe for solo guitar.
The booklet goes into some detail on the technical problems with all of these transcriptions, but the text is more concerned with a remarkably detailed and extremely readable examination of Schubert and Schumann’s lives, the times in which their music was composed, the poets and poetry set in their songs and beyond. You will learn a huge amount about all of this, plus the up-and-down fashion for the guitar and the mixed fortunes of its players and makers. While researching Mertz’s arrangements Cordas discovered the four surviving and only known works for guitar by Dutch guitarist and composer Karel Arnoldus Craeijvanger. This is not only a unique set of recordings including the CD world première of the Trois Nocturnes, but also provides a fascinating snapshot into musical life in the Netherlands and Europe in the mid 19th century.
The Mertz Schubert arrangements are delightfully light in texture and given subtly colourful performances by Cordas. The decisions about how far the piano originals are playable on guitar apply both here as well as to Cordas’s own transcriptions of Schumann’s Dichterliebe. Changes of key for practical reasons are clearly shown in tables in the book, also comparing Liszt’s versions of the Schubert songs and the Friedländer transcriptions of Dichterliebe. To me, Cordas’s versions strike an ideal balance between fidelity to the musical intentions of the composer and adaptation in order to create something of expressive value to guitarist and audience alike. The painstaking and detailed way in which these transcriptions was made is outlined in the book, with the problematic Dass ist ein Flöten und Geigen nearly seeing the whole project grind to a halt. This painstaking approach is the same as that taken to Cordas’s with the text of his book, with everything backed up by a vast bibliography and detailed references for every chapter.
You are unlikely to have heard of Craeijvanger or Craeyvanger, but his Introduction & Variations sur un thème de l’opera Der Freischütz has appeared on a Naxos Guitar Laureate recital by Johannes Möller (review) who, like Cordas, has connections to the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague. With the added interest of historic provenance for Cordas’s instrument I don’t intend making comparisons, but both performances are excellent. The Trois Nocturnes were printed but not published in Utrecht in an unknown year. Both of these works are fine examples of music written specifically for guitar and the latter could fit easily into the standard repertoire, Craeijvanger’s writing for his instrument being our best evidence for his undoubtedly fine abilities as a performer. The lyrical nature of the second nocturne marked Andantino is very appealing, as it the final Adagio with its shades of Chopin in the melodic shape of its main theme, though its technical content makes it highly idiomatic for guitar.
The recordings are superbly produced, with close detail but no subsidiary noises and a nicely atmospheric aura. The Mertz arrangements and the works by Craeijvanger are played on an instrument by Viennese maker Johann Georg Stauffer from around 1824, and Schumann’s Dichterliebe played on a modern instrument, showing the contrast in timbre and sustaining quality between the ages. The Stauffer instrument was loaned by The Hague’s Gemeente or municipal museum which has a very fine collection of historic instruments. Bringing such a fragile instrument carefully into playing condition is a story in itself. If you are keen on music from the Romantic era and want to delve deeply into the worlds of these composers then this is a very special place to visit, and to keep as a substantial and lifelong reference.