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Guitar and Fortepiano
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Ouverture Eduardo e Cristina [9:09]
Ouverture ll Barbiere di Siviglia [7:25]
Ferdinando CARULLI (1770-1841)
Grand Duo Op. 70 [6:07]
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Pot-Pourri pour pianoforte et guitare Op. 53 [10:03]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Variations on a theme from Mozart’s Die Zauberflote Op. 169 [9:23]
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Introduction and Fandango [6:43]
Sheila Arnold (fortepiano)
Alexander-Sergei Ramirez (Romantic guitar)
Recording information not provided
CAVI-MUSIC 8553080 [56:30]

Since the incarnation in which the classical guitar has become universally recognized, it has also been valued as an eminent bedfellow with the piano. Composers such as Anton Diabelli and Ferdinando Carulli wrote original music for guitar/piano duets; others arranged popular music of the time for the same combination. While both instruments have undergone considerable change in the intervening period, this alliance has remained strong. However those changes continue to challenge the liaison, and musicians embrace various options and techniques in order that the end result of music making is optimal.

The rather parsimonious liner notes take some time to justify the type of instruments employed in this recording. It is explained that initial use of a modern piano and guitar was doomed to failure: the entirely disparate sonorities meant that the piano had to play very softly, or not play at all, and the guitarist was forced to play as loudly as possible, all the time. In resolution of these challenges, period instruments were chosen. The guitar is a Romantic or Biedermeier copy after an original instrument by Johann Georg Stauffer (1773-1853). This was made by Bernhard Kresse, Cologne (2006). In comparison to the modern instrument the sound is bright and piercing, but of less prodigious volume. While a period instrument is relevant to the current context, solo music of the period invariably sounds better on a modern guitar. The piano part employs a fortepiano; it is a copy by J.C. Neupert (Bamberg) of an instrument by Louis Dulcken (circa 1815). The hammer heads of the fortepiano are covered with soft leather, resulting in a more rapid attack and less sustain.

In reality one may conjecture whether the aforementioned principles are firm guidelines, or simply individual preference. Despite the lack of sustain and volume of the modern guitar, in each case the antithesis of the piano, both instruments are currently played together very successfully. The Halasz duo, comprising husband Franz and wife Denora, use modern instrument on their excellent two-CD set of music by Ferdinando and Gustavo Carulli (Naxos 8.570587/88 – review of Vol 2). Duo Adentro also use modern instruments. Individual preference appears to play a strong role with duettists Marina Razumovskaja (piano) and Cecilio Perera (period guitar). Having listened to the review recording and compared it with similar music played on modern instruments, one can readily confirm the reasoning behind the choice of fortepiano and period guitar: the overall sound is very balanced, neither instrument dominating the other, and the guitarist does not give any impression of labouring to maintain his audible balance with the louder instrument.

Alexander-Sergei Ramirez and Sheila Arnold are a husband-and-wife team who first met in the late 1990s while attending a master class at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival. They are outstanding soloists in their own right, and reviews of their solo performances have appeared previously in this forum. Some years passed after their marriage before they began to make music as a duo.

The programme is predominantly music from various composers which has been arranged for piano/guitar duets. The pen of Ferdinando Carulli is to be found in four of the six programme items, either by way of original composition or as an arranger of music by Rossini and Beethoven.

One striking aspect of this recording is the dynamic range in some tracks, enabled not only through the ‘attack’ of the fortepiano, but also the guitar. The general recording level is quite low, and those initially deceived by this will be scrambling for the volume control when Sheila Arnold moves into full ‘attack’ mode; a good example is track 1, Rossini’s Overture to Eduardo e Cristina.

This recording is a testament to the quality of music that ensues when the guitar and the piano, played by fine musicians with good, balanced programming sense, perform together so superbly. Most of the time there appears to be only one instrument, albeit with extended timbre and colours. This must be considered the ultimate goal of all duettists.

Zane Turner

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