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Fernando SOR (1778-1839)
Studies in the Form of Suites
Suite in B minor [4:29]
Suite in E Major [5:11]
Suite in A Minor [7:36]
Suite in A Major [8:46]
Suite in D Major [9:42]
Suite in G major [5:27]
Suite in C Major [8:23]
Suite in E Minor [9:26]
Paolo Cherici (guitar)
rec. private recording studio, Milan, Italy, 2014. DDD
DYNAMIC CDS7722 [59:02]

To facilitate survival of their craft, the great masters of western art music composed works in the form of studies for their respective instruments. The challenge in this endeavour is the balance between didactic content and musical beauty. J.S. Bach, Domenico Scarlatti and Frederic Chopin, to name but three, exhibited great skill in writing studies which reflect this balance. Exemplified by the Sonatas of Scarlatti, music not so designated was often written with strong didactic objectives.

Among those who wrote for the guitar, none excelled Fernando Sor in writing studies that combined exquisite musical beauty, particularly harmonically, along with technical development leading to a mastery of the instrument. Sor wrote large volumes of music for students of the guitar, but essentially his core studies comprise six discrete groups totalling 121 studies. It is clear that the studies of Sor were as much about developing musicianship as technical prowess.

The most famous of the Sor studies are to be found in an edition by Andrés Segovia, published circa 1945. Like the composer, Segovia demonstrated refined musical taste and profound understanding of guitar technique in the twenty he chose for this edition. Some are of such breathtaking beauty that they became staples of the modern concert repertory, and Segovia not only recorded many, but also played them regularly in his concerts.

Great music has a component of immortality and invariably attracts the attention of subsequent generations of composers. The studies of Fernando Sor are no exception, and have been adapted in various forms and guises: Antón García Abril orchestrated several with guitar accompaniment (review); Roland Dyens incorporated them into string quartets (review), and numerous others have composed second parts for duet performance. Even Fernando Sor could not resist the temptation to add his own thoughts to those of Mozart in the famous Opus 9, Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart. Those familiar with guitar repertory will know that The Magic Flute was Sor’s source of inspiration.

The review disc is interesting and unique in that it presents thirty seven original studies by Sor and groups them into suites, essentially without change or adaptation. There are eight suites each comprising three to seven studies, each suite representing a specific major or minor key.

Nicoletta Confalone, who wrote the liner-notes section dealing with Fernando Sor and his guitar studies, presents concepts to suggest that these studies share more in common than tonality. In the way grouped they exhibit continuity within the same tonality and fall comfortably within the suite format. In the recording this concept is further reinforced by allowing some studies to flow directly on, the final cadence resolving on the first chord of the next.

For whatever reasons, the studies chosen exclude the most technically challenging that Sor wrote. Although the keys are represented, conspicuous omissions include numbers 12, 14, 16, 17 and 20 from the Segovia Edition.

One aspect of this CD which significantly limits its appeal is the use of a period instrument by Fratelli Rovetta, Bergamo, 1817. These instruments invariably have a rather ’boxy’ sound and limited volume potential. As part of the ‘authentic’ approach they are usually played without fingernails - as Sor would have done - and these factors result in a sound which is devoid of tonal colourations/variations and is rather monotone. On this recording every track sounds much the same, and after 37 tracks only the dedicated aficionado will still be attentive.

That said there are examples of original repertory played on period guitars that sound excellent. Ricardo Gallén- Naxos 8.555285 (review) manages this on a copy of an original guitar by Joaquín Garcia. Malaga. Although not specified, the tonal palette strongly suggests employment of fingernails, rather than just the tip of finger flesh.

Interestingly the original instrument used in this recording has a scale (string) length of 650mm. Until the time of Antonio Torres (1817-1892) when the scale length became fairly standardised at 650mm, the majority of period guitars had scale lengths of 640mm and less, some as low as 629mm. However no real standard has ever been adopted with guitars made in the middle/latter part of the 20th century by favoured makers, such as Jose Ramirez III, having scales length of up to 670mm. The current fashions centres more on 650mm with 640 being favoured by some with small hands.

One can understand preoccupation with how the music originally sounded when played by the composer. Unfortunately, and unlike its orchestral stringed relatives, the guitar of 1817 is an anachronism when compared with a modern-day concert guitar. To persist in this preoccupation, and exacerbate the disadvantages by not using fingernails for reasons of ‘authenticity’, produces results that amount to little more than historical curiosity.

The merit of this CD lies in creative programming and not in the performances. This is strictly for students of the guitar with a ‘period’ penchant.

Zane Turner


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