THE NEW CD
Actualizado: 23 dic 2019
You will find it at https://delmark.com/product/5033/ This is the first CD to appear since I created the blog, so I think I am entitled to say something about it. And also to thank the great Ignacio Iturria for the cover painiting. He got the idea - I am really trying to connect broken connections here. I recorded at the same studio in Uruguay I had used for my previous CD (the one of Giuliani works), with the same producer, the excellent Luis Ravizza, who happens to be a classically trained pianist (and incidentally one of the people who sang with Bobby McFerrin when the latter sang at the Teatro Solís, in Montevideo. If this gives you the impression of an unusual person, you are right.) The repertoire was very heterogenous, but they are all pieces that I care deeply about. More about this later. As you know (or don't but now you will) every recording session yields a truckload of takes that have to be edited. So, you choose which section of which take you want to include in the finished version. It is very much like editing a film, I suppose. You have an overall idea of how things should go, and choose the parts that fit that idea and put them together. (And of course, the ones where you did not make mistakes. This is why nobody seems to ever have made a mistake, when you listen to a recording.) Laymen or laywomen might think this is a kind of fake. And in a way it is – you are using parts from take 45, parts from take 100, stitch them together (which is very easy to do nowadays and risk-free – I can assure you it was a lot more difficult with analog methods). But think of it as somebody making a sculpture and being able to change that slightly too small nose of the David without having to take a hammer to the sculpture and restart from scratch. It can happen that a live performance is better than a recording, but only if you listen to it just once. In that, I agree with Glenn Gould and many other people: recording is a different art form. Playing a concert, live, is a totally different game. In all this, again for the laymen and laywomen, if you have prepared musically well enough, there will not be big discrepancies among the different takes – you will be taking the same tempi, doing the same dynamics, but one phrase in a particular take might have that special thing that you are looking for. So you keep that one phrase, and look for the same quality in what is coming next. After the first sessions were done, I had decided that the CD needed one more work, and I wanted to record the “Sonata in one movement”, by Ferdinand Rebay, which would give the CD a more normal duration. It is also a piece I happen to like very much. I had come to know the work (which was about to be published) some months after the first sessions were done. So I did that too. I am very happy this CD is coming off at Delmark, headed by Julia Miller and Elbio Barilari. I have known Elbio (who excels as a writer, music and literature critic, composer, multi-instumentalist, chef, and who knows what else) for about 40 years. Julia and him are certainly among the nicest people I know. Now, I want to say something about the works on the CD, longer that the necessarily short notes I wrote for it. The Chávez pieces have kept me busy for long. They are anything but simple. They have this Indigenist stand of “let's try to write pre-Columbian music and hope it takes us into new territories” and they are really excellent music. After Falla's “Hommage to Debussy”, it is one of the first pieces of the past century which really take the guitar seriously, asking of it an enormously wide range of expression and possibilities. Chávez, in the first and third pieces, continuously changes the tempo, so it is a challenge to make the transitions really sound coherent. He probably wrote those pieces with Segovia in mind, having just heard him in Mexico City. So I think that the ideal he had in mind was not so much the open-string sound (which he does use) but a very singing and vibrato sound, something directly gripping your heart. I think this is pretty clear in the first piece. The Chávez pieces are not improvisations – everything is very carefully thought out. And the Indigenist stance is not a bluff. I think you really feel this is another, non-European, way of making music. It might seem crude on first sight, because it does not conform to the usual canons of what guitar music should be, and in fact Segovia never played the work, but it is original and striking. The second piece is something like a sacred procession, it has this ritual thing marked on its little ADN. You can practically hear the steps of the Aztec priests walking up one of Teotihuacán pyramids. And the third piece suggests to me some kind of feast, a celebration. The many changes of tempo are just different scenes, exactly as it happens in the very different finale of Manuel Ponce's “Sonatina Meridional”. I have to insist on how old these pieces are, almost a century by now. because they sound as if they had been written yesterday. The Denisov Sonata is a very different matter. Here, we enter into a tradition, hear it, and can observe what the composer is doing with it or against it. I don't know how many contemporary compositions (I mean, real composers, not guitarists's improvisations) begin with an A minor arpeggio, but if I had to bet, I would say they are very few. And this is not the only originality. The first movement expands perpetually, always using a thrice-repetead note and a diatonic descent as motives, and evolves into a different species. I think it is one of the most extraordinary movements in guitar literature, comparable to Sor's first movement of op. 25, those introduction gestures that become a sonata form. This one seems never-ending, like a river flowing and growing. Denisov always finds some new turn to his motives, always logical and always unexpected. But by the time the ending does come, it feels inevitable. The second movement is one of those Slavic songs, where passion deforms form until it becomes a new form, also outstanding. And the Finale shows how you can take a cliché, a Spanish “Fiesta” and twist and bend it in all shapes until it becomes at the same time its portrait and a parody of itself. The piece is a lot more conservative in style that other works by Denisov, but it makes no concessions at all. Jumping from here to Paganini is like travelling to a different planet. Paganini wrote these Sonatas probably as learning exercises for himself, a boy of 16-17 doubting if he would be a violinist or a guitarist (he had started as a mandolinist, so it is easy to understand the doubt). They remained in manuscript for a very long time. The Italian state bought the manuscripts, written in a very small hand, eventually made them available to researchers, and Ruggero Chiesa was the first to publish them. This was in the 80's of the past century, and very few people have paid any heed. Those little Sonatas are some of the most extraordinary pieces ever written for guitar. Not only are they a document of Paganini's process of learning to play the guitar (you can follow his amazing technical development practically from one Sonata to the next) but they are also excellent music. I am proud of having recorded these pieces, and I chose three very different ones to highlight the scope of Paganini's feat. The fact that he chose to keep them unpublished says, I think, quite a lot about his character. The image some people still have of Paganini as a superficial violin virtuoso is widely off the mark. I agree rather with Schumann's comment: “What a man, what a violin, what an artist!” These Sonatas are something really outstanding in the guitar literature and we should not keep ignoring it. Brouwer's “Parabola” is harder to pinpoint. It is part of his trilogy of avant-garde pieces for guitar, with “Canticum” and “La Espiral Eterna”, of the 1970's. But is the subtlest one of the three, and (maybe for that reason) also the less played one. I have already written at length about it elsewhere (link), so if you want, you can read there a long analysis of the work.. It has a mirror structure and makes copious use of Afro-Cuban motives, sometimes very well disguised, sometimes just as allusions. The usual elegance of Brouwer's writing is of course not absent. One problem for the player is that the notation has something of aleatoric. Brouwer does not use the usual metric values, but groups of notes, establishing (for instance) four different speeds, but not defining the relationship between them. In the central section there is a passage where you have to build a continuum alternating between four different groups of pitches; now, to do that really seamslessly you need to write them out, because nothing is more difficult for the brain than to be random. It is very easy to fall on patterns and repetitions which do not sound exactly random. All this requires a lot of musical decisions from the player. J.K. Mertz is of course well known to guitarists nowadays. It was not always so, but since things have changed, I think it needs less comment than the rest of the pieces in the CD. I tried to select and order four of the “Bardenklänge” pieces, a series which the Viennese press mentioned as most likely to survive of all of Mertz's works, and they were not far wrong, I think. The criteria used were simple: contrast between the pieces and a reasonable sequence of keys. I find that JKM, at his best, is not all that far from his great contemporaries, Liszt, Chopin or the Schumann of Kinderszenen. And finally, Rebay. What a strange story – a non-guitarists composer writing a lot for guitar, and big works too, just because he had a niece who was a guitarist and he liked the sound of the instrument very much. Also,, a composer who was relatively well known, and then fell into complete obscurity. He wrote five sonatas for solo guitar, and several others for other instruments with guitar accompaniment. This one, the Sonata in one movement, is the one I like best, but the others are also very well done. You could say that this is completely reactionary music, and from the point of view of fashion, you would be right. In the 1930's the big ones (Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Stravinsky, Bartók and many others) were doing completely different things, and Brahms or Schubert, both of them Rebay's idols, were not so much in fashion. In fact Schoenberg had to write an article defending Brahms, titled “Brahms the progressive”. But frankly, I think style is not all that important. Time passes, and it is no longer taboo to write tonally, or at least to use tonal chords, which might be a good thing or not. I always think of Borges' Pierre Menard, in relation to this: the same text can have completely different meanings if you read it with different eyes and with the questions of your own time in mind, five centuries later. It is just impossible not to be of your time, whatever style you use. What matters is that very elusive and undefinable thing called quality. And I happen to think that this piece has it. Well, I think that is all I have to say. Enjoy the CD!