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REVIEW
RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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Recital
Roland DYENS (b. 1955)
1. Fuoco (from Libra Sonatine) [3:39]
Atanas OURKOUZOUNOV (b. 1970)
2. Folk Song Variations [6:54]
Manuel de FALLA (1876 – 1946)
3. Romance del Pescador (arr. Gunnar Spjut) [2:49]
Mauro GIULIANI (1781 – 1829)
4. Grand Overture [8:13]
Niccolò PAGANINI (1782 – 1840)
5. Romance Più tosto Largo Amorosamente (from Grand Sonata) (arr. David Härenstam) [3:47]
Santiago de MURCIA (1673 – 1739)
Suite en rè majeur (transcription Emilio Pujol)
6. Allemanda [1:52]
7. Corrente [1:03]
8. Zarabanda [1:35]
9. Allegro [1:00]
10. Rondó [1:06]
11. Giga I Giga II [1:48]
12. Gavotta [1:06]
13. La Burlesca [0:45]
Manuel M. PONCE (1882 – 1948)
14. Variations on a theme of Cabezón [6:05]
Agustín BARRIOS MANGORÉ (1885 – 1955)
15. Preludio Adagio [2:02]
16. Villancico de Navidad [2:38]
17. Oración Para Todos [2:45]
Leo BROUWER (b. 1939)
18. Paisaje Cubano Con Campanas [5:40]
Staffan STORM (b. 1964)
19. Lost Summers (Premiere recording) [9:08]
Maria LÖFBERG (b. 1968)
20. Dreaming Dance (Premiere recording) [3:04]
David Härenstam (guitar)
rec. 14-15 June, 5-6 July 2014, Sct. Peders Kirke, Slagelse, Denmark
DAPHNE 1053 [67:18]

In a career of 15 years including extensive touring in Europe and Australia David Härenstam has established himself as one of the leading guitarists of his generation. When it comes to repertoire I believe he throws his net wider than most of his colleagues. He is at home in most genres and besides his solo activities cooperates with other instrumentalists, singers and reciters. Almost ten years ago I reviewed a disc where he was partnered by violinist Nils-Erik Sparf (review) and since then there have followed a number of other CDs. The present solo disc is a telling example of his wide scope, spanning baroque (de Murcia) to 2014 (Storm). In the booklet notes he writes: “I think this disc is structured very much like my solo concerts. Much to invite, challenge and even in no small part to provoke.”

Roland Dyens is probably best known for Tango en Skai from 1985, mixing Latin-American rhythms and jazz. Libra sonatine from 1986 is a more extended work in three movements with the fiery Fuoco as the finale. It is rhythmically thrilling with some exotic seasoning and – at the end – some percussive sounds. Very inviting – a winner. Dyens is French, born in Tunis. Atanas Ourkozounov is Bulgarian but has some French connections since he studied at the Paris Conservatory. The theme on which the Folk Song Variations are based is from a traditional Bulgarian folk song, Pozaspa li iagodo? (Are you Sleeping, Strawberry?). He also uses the guitar as a percussion instrument, “tapping with the left hand while simultaneously playing harmonics with the right”. In the final variation he imitates the tambora, a kind of long-necked lute belonging among the traditional Bulgarian instruments. Heavily rhythmic this is another winner.

On more traditional ground is Manuel de Falla’s Romance del Pescador which is a movement from his 1915 ballet El amor brujo (Love, the Magician). De Falla reworked the music several times and also arranged four pieces for solo piano, including Romance del Pescator. Probably Gunnar Spjuth made the guitar transcription from the piano score. It is very beautiful and David Härenstam plays it with delicate nuances.

The Italian guitarist, cellist and singer Mauro Giuliani was also a prolific composer: 150 works with opus numbers and a lot of unnumbered pieces. The Grand overture was composed in 1809 and is a marvellous piece. It needs a fully-fledged virtuoso with real stamina and that’s what it gets here. It's a piece full of verve and drive.

That Paganini was also a practised guitarist may not be too well-known but he left behind a considerable amount of music with guitar. The combination of violin and guitar recurs throughout his oeuvre. He also wrote no fewer than fifteen quartets for guitar and strings plus some further works for the same combination. Add to this a large number of examples for solo guitar and even a little canzonetta for voice and guitar, and we realise that the guitar was an important instrument for him. The Romance was originally written for guitar “with the accompaniment of a violin” as the second movement of his Grand Sonata. It is one of his most beautiful pieces.

I have to admit that Santiago de Murcia was a name new to me. After hearing his D Major suite I regretted that I had never encountered his music before. The nine short movements are a real delight and in particular the melody of the Gavotta sticks at once.

Manuel Ponce wrote a large amount of guitar music, much of it for Andrés Segovia. Variations on a Theme of Cabezon was his last work. No one has hitherto been able to locate the theme in Cabezon’s production. John Mills, the writer of the notes on Ponce in the booklet, has however found that the theme is an Easter hymn – and has no connection with Cabezon whatsoever. The theme begins like Greensleeves and is developed in many directions. It's another winner.

I have long been an admirer of Barrios’ music and the three pieces presented here are definitely from his top drawer. The Christmas related Villancico de Navidad, composed in 1943, is especially charming.

Cuban music has always been an important source of inspiration for Leo Brouwer and his 1996 composition Paisaje Cubano Con Campanas is no exception. It is a minimalistic study in rhythm that some listeners may find somewhat provocative. I have heard a lot of Brouwer’s music through the years and find his knotty harmonies quite refreshing.

The remaining two works by Swedish composers are world premiere recordings. Staffan Storm’s Lost Summers was premiered as recently as June 2014 by David Härenstam, who recorded it shortly afterwards. I was in two minds about the work after hearing it the first time. A distinct blues feeling was my first reaction. It opens with quite simple, clear, transparent melodic cells, tonal, that grow in intensity and in harmonic complexity. I hear bells at first. Then it grows into thicker and more aggressive chords. The middle section is faster in a kind of question-answer dialogue. Then the opening tempo returns but the mood is more autumnal (Summer is coming to an end – is lost). There is a sorrowful beauty here with folksong-like melodic phrases. A sense of farewell can be felt - softer, thinner - but the question-answer structure remains until the end. The second time the blues feeling was there but then this feeling was toned down. It's a fascinating composition that I haven’t yet digested in full.

The liner-notes have no information on the age of Maria Löfberg’s Dreaming Dance but the age doesn’t matter. What matters is the quality of the music and it is hauntingly beautiful. Maria says in her notes: “Sometimes, when you dream, you can feel that you’re flying and your body is somehow dancing. It is a very positive feeling, at least for me. So much so that you don’t want to wake up. This quiet guitar piece perhaps conveys something of this harmonious dream feeling. Such, at least, was this composer’s intention.” Let me add that David Härenstam has caught this feeling to perfection in his sensitive playing.

The whole programme on this disc is a fascinating mix of styles, nationalities and times but they hang together admirably and so contrasted are the various pieces that they keep the listener alert from beginning to end.

The liner-notes are also of particular interest. Three of the composers, Maria Löfberg, Atanas Ourkozounov and Staffan Storm write about their own compositions and for the rest of the contents Härenstam has asked guitarist friends to provide notes.

As always with Daphne recordings the sound is excellent. There are occasional noises from the fretboard but that seems to be unavoidable when the microphones are so close. In the recital hall this is less obvious. A second playing through from beginning to end – after some returns to certain pieces – enhanced the feeling of a unified recital programme, where the sum is even higher than the value of the certainly very fine individual parts.

Guitar lovers: don’t hesitate. Music-lovers in general: don’t hesitate. This disc will embellish any CD collection.

Göran Forsling




 




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