Friday, 27 March 2015

Homages: A Musical Dedication - Christoph Denoth

Homages - Christoph Denoth - Signum
Malats, Narvaez, Llobet, Sor, Villa-Lobos, Falla, Turina, Albeniz, Rodrigo; Christoph Denoth; Signum Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 23 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Imaginative selection of guitar pieces mainly from Spain, all linked by their sense of homage

This new disc on Signum Classics from Swiss guitarist Christoph Denoth presents a selection of pieces by mainly Spanish composers all linked by the fact that they were dedicated to someone or something. Christoph Denoth feels that these are all very personal pieces and it makes for an appealing programme. The centrepieces are the Preludes by Heitor Villa Lobos (the only non-Spaniard in the programme) and the Homenaje pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy by Manuel de Falla. But round these Denoth has assembled music by Joaquin Malats y Miarons, Luis de Narvaez, Miguel Llobet, Fernando Sor, Joaquin Turina, Isaac Albeniz, and Joaquin Rodrigo.

When I interviewed Christoph Denoth, he talked about how he felt all the works on the disc had great emotional appeal and how the programme had been assembled to reflect this, rather than from any musicological concerns.

He starts with Serenata Espanola by the Catalan composer Joaquin Malats y Miarons (1872-1912). Malats dedicated his orchestral suite Impresiones de Espana to his friend, the novelist Benito Perez Galdos, a leading member of the Spanish Realism movement. Malats made an arrangement for solo piano of the Serenata Espanola movement of the suite, and here Denoth plays the transcription for guitar by Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909). It has an appealing combination of rhythmic swing and melody.

Luis de Narvaez (1526-1549) was one of the composers who left a body of work for the early version of the guitar, the vihuela.  His Differencias sobre 'Guardame las vacas' is in fact variations on a popular song, 'watch over my cows'. It is a wistful piece with interlocking melodic lines creating a lovely texture. The piece comes from a collection Los seys libros del delphin which is mainly polyphonic music transcribed for the vihuela. Denoth plays another work from the collection, His Cancion de Emperador was a homage to the Emperor Charles V, but also a reference to the Emperor's favourite song, Mille regrets by Josquin which is a melancholy and elegant dance.

Cancio del Lladre is by the Spanish guitarist Miguel Llobet (1878-1938), it is one of a number of Catalan folksongs which Llobet arranged for guitar. This rather wistful and poignant melody in fact tells the story of the life of a bandit!

Fernando Sor (1778-1839) was a Spanish guitarist based in Paris, who left a large body of music for the instrument. His Variations on a Scottish Theme 'Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon' was dedicated to Sor's student Miss Mary Jane Burdett, who was having guitar lessons with Sor in Paris. It is a typical set of classical variations on Robert Burns popular song (written in 1792). Sor starts with a dramatic gesture, and in fact the main tune is quite a long time in coming but the whole piece is on quite a generous scale, lasting over nine minutes. The somewhat Scottish theme continues with the Schottisch-Choro by Heitor Villa-Lobos. This comes from his Suite Popular Brasileira and Schottisch-Choro combines Scottish rhythms with a Brazilian choro. It is a a perky little tune, which is imaginatively treated and Denoth's performance certainly makes you want to dance.

Villa Lobos dedicated his five Preludes (written in 1940) to the great guitarist Andres Segovia, but when they were published (in 1954) the dedication was changed to that of Villa Lobos' wife Mindinha. Each prelude is an homage in itself, 1) to the Brazilian country dweller, 2) to the rascal of Rio, the Malandro Carioca, 3) to Bach, 4) to the Brazilian Indios, 5) to social life: 'to the fresh face young boys and girls who go to concerts and the theatre in Rio. The first prelude brings a new complexity to the music, with Denoth responding with a lovely dark depth of tone. But there is still melodic appeal, and Denoth plays with appealing urgency. The second prelude uses the same material but there is a different feel to it with an intense guitar-like texture, again performed with urgency. Prelude no. 3 is sober and thoughtful, whilst the fourth starts out quite spare but then develops into something very rapid, free and rhapsodic.  The final prelude is quite song-like and uses popular rhythms in a complex interweaving of material which includes references to the opening prelude.

Homenaje pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) was published in 1920 in Paris in a special edition of La Revue musicale dedicated to the memory of Claude Debussy. It is a short but complex piece, a darkly throbbing habanera which is wonderfully mysterious and elegiac. Falla's contemporary the composer Joaquin Turina (1882-1949) was reluctant to write for the guitar, and only did so at the prompting of Andres Segovia and in fact Segovia acted as mid-wife for the piece, assisting the composer bar by bar. The result is Sevillana (Fantasia) Op.29 dedicated to 'Al maravilloso guitarrista Andres Segovia con admiracion y carino'. It is very Spanish in feel (far more so than the Falla), but with an interestingly varied mix of textures and techniques, by turns elegiac and dramatically intense. The result is a fabulous piece which deserves to be far more widely known.

Mallorca, Barcarolla Op. 202 was written by the composer Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909) in 1890 whilst on a concert tour of Britain. The barcarolle of the title in fact refers to a style of lament, particular to the island of Mallorca. In fact this is a transcription, as Albeniz didn't actually write anything for guitar! Not surprisingly it is quite dark in feel, rather wistful and interestingly varied over the underlying barcarolle rhythm yet still recognisably Spanish

Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999) is best known for his guitar concertos, but he also wrote solo music for the guitar. En los trigales was written for the Spanish guitarist Regino Sainz e la Maza in 1938. The title, in the wheat fields, refers to the landscape of Spain. It is a dramatic piece, with an imaginative use of the guitar textures and colours.  Finally the disc returns to Miguel Llobet again, with his El testament d'Amelia an arrangement of a melancholy song about a young girl poisoned by her step-mother.

Joaquín Malats y Miarons (1872-1912) - Serenata Española [4.38]
Luis de Narváez (1526-1549) - Diferencias sobre "Guárdame las vacas" [3.26]
Luis de Narváez (1526-1549) - Canción del Emperador [3.18]
Miguel Llobet (1876-1938) - Canço del Lladre [2.07]
Fernando Sor (1778-1839) - Variations on a Scottish Theme, 'Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon', Op. 40 [9.04]
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) Schottish - Chôro [4.07]
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) - Prelude No. 1 (Homenagen ao sertanejo brasileiro) [4.58]
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) - Prelude No. 2 (Homenagen ao Malandro Carioca) [3.06]
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) - Prelude No. 3 (Homenagen a Bach) [6.19]
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) - Prelude No. 4 (Homenagen ao Indio Brasileiro) [2.52]
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) - Prelude No. 5 (Homenagen ao Vida Social) [4.06]
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) - Homenaje pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy [3.41]
Joaquín Turina (1882-1949) - Sevillianas (Fantasia), Op. 29 [6.21]
Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) - Mallorca, Barcarola, Op. 202 [7.21]
Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1990) - En los Triagles [4.00]
Miguel Llobet (1878-1938) - El Testament d'Amelia [2.18]
Christoph Denoth (guitar)
Recorded Beethovensaal, Hannover, Germany, 2012

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