Alexandra Whittingham (guitar)
My European Journey
rec. October 2020, Crichton Collegiate Church, Midlothian, UK
DELPHIAN DCD34248 [65:47]
When a young guitarist with a relatively short career has received so many accolades, been a prize winner in guitar competitions, and become a star on YouTube, an inaugural recording is eagerly anticipated.
Alexandra Whittingham studied classical guitar, piano, jazz guitar and composition during a seven-year attendance at the famed Chetham’s School of Music. Complementing those studies was membership of the Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra. In her final year at Chetham’s, Whittingham gained the Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music second diploma in guitar performance. She then received a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London; having graduated with first class honours and the Timothy Gibson Prize in 2019, she returned to the Academy in pursuit of a master’s degree.
Whittingham has also been a prize winner in several important guitar competitions including the inaugural Edinburgh Guitar Competition, the Carpathian International Youth Guitar Competition in Budapest and the Gregynog Youth Musician Competition.
The programme for this inaugural recording is rather atypical. This may be explained, in part, by Whittingham’s stated objective of ‘it proving interesting to non-guitarists.’ Composers of guitar music appearing on the programme such as Jaime Bosch, Catharina Pratten, Frederik Rung and Ernest Shand will be unfamiliar to most mainstream classical guitar aficionados. The compilation is the result of scouring libraries, studies and the internet to discover not just hidden gems, but music far beyond the confines of the perceived 19th century guitar tradition.
The observant listener will note that the programme includes probably the most obscure and certainly the most famous music ever written for guitar, by guitarists. The liner notes state that Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Tarrega was dedicated to the guitarist Alfred Cottin, pupil of Jaime Bosch, a Catalan guitarist living in France. In reality this was a rededication when the music was finally published. The original score entitled, Improvisacion ja Granada! Cantiga Arabe, was dedicated to a favoured pupil, dona Concha. The dedication read: ‘To my distinguished student Senora Conchita G. de Jacoby, from your friend and teacher Francisco Tarrega, Malaga, December 8th, 1899’. A brief, ironic note on the last page of the score read: ‘Since I cannot offer a gift of greater value on the day of your Saint (birthday), accept this poor little poetic note, an impression of what my soul felt before the great marvel of the Alhambra we admired together in Granada’. (Francisco Tarrega)
One could debate the liner notes’ claim that ‘much of the finest notated music for the guitar was written in the 1800s.’ The dearth of quality repertory, and general lack of interest in the instrument, necessitated that a large proportion of guitar music from that period came from the pens of the guitar virtuosi such as Aguado, Sor and Tarrega. Beyond these, Segovia paid little attention to other 19th century guitar music. He focussed on having a large repertory of relatively insignificant music rejuvenated into one of greater quality by new compositions. It is also interesting that Tarrega played none of original 19th century composition by guitarists in his concerts. He concentrated on transcriptions/arrangements for the guitar of music identified from quality alternative sources.
Of course, the possibility also remains that newly-discovered gems for the guitar were inaccessible to Tarrega and Segovia, who may have otherwise played them? Another possibility is that it takes a modern, creative female virtuoso of Romantic disposition to breathe life and vigour into these latent, miniature masterpieces.
In the context of Segovia’s dismissive attitude to the music of Barrios, and his refusal to record any of it, the question of how much quality is contained in original guitar music of the 1800s remains somewhat moot. However, that said, I found the programme of this CD creative, refreshingly different, and an appreciated deviation from the imbalance of ‘work horses’ to be found in most recorded programmes. On this account the non-guitarists will form their own opinions. From the creative way Whittingham approaches her guitar playing, maybe this sort of programme is what we should have anticipated?
It is far easier to document what Whittingham does right, than what she does wrong, because there is an absolute paucity of the latter. Her playing is very musical, and obviously influenced by experiences outside Western Art Music. Her highly refined technique is reflected in the general lack of ’string whistle’ usually an intrinsic aspect of guitar playing which many find annoying. Players with such a technique are able to reduce this, if not almost eliminate it. Electronic intervention is often employed to reduce the audibility of this phenomenon; on this recording one must concentrate to hear it. Much attention is paid to the execution of each and every note; the precision about her playing is impressive. The well-recorded disc suggests a robust tone in her playing, complemented by a guitar from the hands of luthier Christopher Dean, 2011. The design of the instrument is strongly influenced by the German Hauser school. She uses Augustine Regal Blue strings.
This will not be the last recording of Alexandra Whittingham. While she may have positioned the programme to especially attract the non-guitarist, there are aspects about it that, in total, will attract all who just appreciate quality guitar playing. Whatever may ensue, it will not be easy to match the creative interest of the programme, nor exceed the quality of the executions.
FRANCISCO TARREGA (1852-1909)
Capricho arabe [5:59]
Recuerdos de la Alhambra [4:00]
JAIME BOSCH (1852-1895)
Brimborion, Op 11 [4:45]
J.K. MERTZ (1806-1856)
CATHARINA JOSEPHA PRATTEN (1824-1895)
Forgotten (Impromptu) [3:12]
FREDERIK RUNG (1854-1914)
Humoreske (Albumsblade No 43) [1:11]
NAPOLEON COSTE (1805-1883)
Le Depart, Op 31 [10:03]
ERNEST SHAND (1868- 1924)
*Legende, Op 201 [3:02]
*The Gnomes, Op 77 [2:00]
LUIGI LEGNANI (1790-1877)
Fantasia brillante e facile, Op 19 [11:22]
GIULIO REGONDI (c1822-1872)
Introduction et Caprice, Op 23 [11:20]