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Richards. Mini-Preludes. No.1 - 5. Interludes. No.1 - 2. Primitive Rites. Nocturnes. No.1 - 2.
Tommis. Mel Wefus. (Prelude No.5)
Williamson. Mosaics. No.1. (Lament) No.2. (Breathless) No.3. (Mockery)
Biberian. Haiku. No.1.& No.6.
Harrison. Nova Antiqua. The Face that Launched a Thousand Ships
Tavener. Chant.
Croucher. Six Preludes. The Little Boat. Elegy.
 Rawsthorne. Elegy.

A complete disc of 20th century guitar music is a very ambitious programme and British 20th century guitar music unusual fare indeed. Although the inlay notes state that Jonathan Richards has recorded before, his name is unfamiliar to me, as are five of the composers represented here . Tavener, Rawsthorne and Biberian are familiar, the latter two through their guitar compositions and, although Tavener has become very popular recently, this is his first venture into writing for the guitar.

For the most part, Jonathan Richards,comes across as a precise, sensitive player being selective in the use of his tonal pallete, a wise move given the short duration of some of the pieces. His overall tone is good (if at times a little thin on the first string) and seems to be in control as long as he doesn't force the sound too much as he does in his Nocturne No. 2 and Primitive Rites where the tone becomes a little 'naily'. His forté is definitely the more lyrical moments.

With the exception of Tavener and Rawsthorne the programme mainly consists of groups of small pieces, some lasting only a few seconds. Jonathan Richards' own compositions, although interesting, are the least effective and I feel would have worked better if they had been interspersed throughout the programme rather than grouped together at the opening of the disc. However, with Collin Tommis' Mel Wefus we seem to enter a different musical landscape and Richards seems to be more at home with this piece (even more so than with his own compositions), treating us to some lovely growling bass at the opening. It is a pity that more of this composer is not included here; his is a name I will look out for.

Mosaics by John Williamson held less appeal (does a piece lasting only 45 seconds require a subtitle after to indicate it's meaning)? Gilbert Biberian's Haiku Nos, 1 and 6 (and why not include Nos, 2-5?) shows an accomplished guitar composer at his best, totally in control of the medium and, here, inspired by Japanese poetry. The two Timothy Harrison pieces, Nova Antiqua and The Face that launched a Thousand Ships, does conjure up the past, Nova Antiqua certainly retaining an early music feel regardless of the liberal use of subtle modern harmonies. Chant by John Tavener is, at just over 11 minutes, the longest of the programme and gives a feeling of spaciousness that Richards' playing intensifies by focusing the attention and drawing one into the music; for me a high point of this disc.

The Six Preludes of Terence Croucher (the longest only 57 seconds) I liked very much, the last giving a nod of recognition to Villa-Lobos. The Little Boat does evoke images of the title and Elegy, a much weightier piece, shows us that there could be more strong compositions from this composer. The closing work, Elegy by Alan Rawsthorne, was the only piece familiar to me. The dedicatee, Julian Bream, recorded it in 1973 and such a strong personality as Bream's cannot be ignored so comparisons are inevitable, Jonathan Richards takes over a minute longer (9 minutes 9 seconds as opposed to Breams 7 minutes 45 seconds) but maintains the intensity of this powerful work most successfully.

A very enjoyable disc that will definitely be worth revisiting; the guitarist conveys his own personality, the overall quality of the recording is good and on the whole the material presented is a breath of fresh air.


Andy Daly

and another view from Andrew Seivewright

Any CD supported by the Rawsthorne Trust must surely be of general interest to viwers of this site; they will certainly find reward in this fine guitar collection, which concludes with Alan Rawsthorne’s last opus, the Elegy, commissioned and completed by Julian Bream. An appropriately sombre and disturbing work, this piece suggested to me Dylan Thomas’s celebrated couplet:

“Do not go gentle into that good night

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

A work to repay repeated hearings.

A shorter Elegy by Terence Croucher precedes the Rawsthorne, the last of a series of eight pieces by this composer. Six Preludes briefly explore a variety of musical ideas: the final item is a real winner, as also is the enchanting “The Little Boat”.

The first ten tracks feature Richards’s own compositions: five MiniPreludes, two Interludes, a piece called Primitive Rites, and two Nocturnes. Colouristic contrast, and an impressive array of well-executed effects characterise this attractive sequence. Two of the Preludes find transatlantic inspiration both north and south of the Border and are delightfully easy on the ear. But Stravinskyan dynamism is also present here, in a recording that throughout catches every tonal nuance of the instrument.

Colin Tommis, the prolific J.R. Williamson, Gilbert Biberian and Timothy Harrison are other composers featured in this showcase of British talent: all have something to offer.

Lastly, a big name, John Tavener whose 11-minute “Chant” is designed to conjure up his beloved Greek landscape. Daringly economical in texture, it is perhaps not vintage Tavener, but is certainly atmospheric and evocative.

On all counts - content, recording and performance - this 65-minute CD is highly recommended.


Andrew Seivewright


Andy Daly

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