Saturday 23 August 2014

Summer listening - Summer Guitar

Craig Ogden - Summer Guitar
Summer Guitar; Craig Ogden; Classic FM / Decca
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 21 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Intelligent easy listening in attractive arrangements from guitarist Craig Ogden and guests

Australian guitarist Craig Ogden's latest disc, Summer Listening on Classic FM / Decca, follows on from his previous albums in being what one might term intelligent easy listening. The disc contains a selection of sixteen arrangements, some solo some with instrumental ensembles, of a variety of songs ranging from the Habanera from Carmen and the Cancion from Falla's Seven Popular Songs to George Harrison's Here Comes the Sung and Stanley Myers' Cavatina (used in the film The Deer Hunter). Ogden is joined by a wide variety of guests, the Tippett Quartet, the Pavao String Quartet, Howard Goodall Chamber Orchestra, and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

The disc opens with George Harrison's Here Comes the Sun, arranged by the Swedish guitarist Goran Sollscher;  an attractive busy arrangement with the tune subsumed in a lovely texture.  Ogden is joined by the Tippett Quartet for Stanley Myers' Cavatina (arranged James Morgan and Juliette Pochin) with Odgen providing a lovely singing vocal line here.
Next comes Sting's Fields of Gold (from his 1993 album Ten Summoner's Tales) in which Ogden is joined by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra in a simple but attractive arrangement which starts discreetly but develops in some big romantic moments which rather leave the guitar behind. The Ashokan Farewell (arranged James Morgan and Juliette Pochin) is a piece written by the American folk-musician Jay Ungar in the style of a Scottish lament. Here Ogden is joined by the Tippett Quartet in an lovely arrangement in which the quartet do rather more than just discreetly support.

Por una Cabeza is a 1935 tango written by the French Argentine singer-songwriter Carlos Gardel. Another arrangement by James Morgan and Juliette Pochin features the Lyric Strings. It starts with big dramatic Latin American string statement before developing into a rather catchy tango. The Habanera from Bizet's Carmen is rather better known. Here Odgen plays his own solo arrangement in which he dazzles with his finger work and at times makes you wonder how many hands he has, so many different lines does he include. But you can also simply sit back and enjoy it.

In Duo Tramonti by the Italian crossover composer Ludovico Einaudi, the arrangement by James Morgan and Juliette Pochin gives the tune to the Lyric Strings, and has Ogden's guitar contributing a alberti-style accompaniment. Francisco Tarrega was a 19th century Spanish guitarist and composer. His Memories of the Alhambra is here given in a version with the Pavao String Quartet, but still allows Ogden to display his tremendous tremolo technique.

Manuel de Falla's Cancion from the Seven Popular Spanish Songs (arranged James Morgan and Juliette Pochin) also features Lyric Strings, and though the arrangement is attractive the result perhaps misses the luxuriance of Falla's original. John Brunning is a guitarist, composer and radio presenter whose work crosses the rock, folk and classical fields. His El Verano is an attractive song, in which Ogden is discreetly supported by the string quartet of Patricia Calnon, Anna Szabo , George Roberson and Nick Cooper.

Ogden's own Land of the Rainbow Gold starts with a nicely sung melody, before variations allow Ogden to show off his technique in a charming way. Howard Goodall's Inspired features the Howard Goodall Chamber Orchestra and in fact Odgen is very much just part of the texture of this romantic piece, rather than being a spot-lit soloist.

Anna Barry's arrangement of the Aria from Villa Lobos's Bachianas Brasileiras No.5  uses Ogden's guitar with a string quintet of Patricia Calnan, Anna Szabo, George Roberson, Nick Cooper and Linda Houghton. For the first section the soprano solo is sung by the violin, with the guitar as part of the texture, then for the middle recitative we have Ogden's guitar solo, before he takes over the melody for the da capo. I rather missed the effect of the multiple cellos here, with the use of string quintet pushing the texture upward into lighter territories.

Gary Ryan's Sugarloaf Mountain is an infectious Latin-American style solo for Odgen. The piece is a movement from a 2004 work, Scenes from Brazil by the classical guitarist and composer Gary Ryan. The Tippett Quartet returns for an arrangement (by James Morgan and Juliette Pochin) of Summertime from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess which showcases the singing talents of Ogden's guitar over the support from the quartet.

The final work on the disc is Albeniz's Torre Bermeja from is piano solo work, 12 Piezas Caracteristicas but nowadays the piece is heard more often in arrangement for guitar. Ogden plays his own arrangement, which brings the disc to a fast and showy, but still dazzling conclusion.

The advantage of recording is that Ogden's guitar can be balanced with the accompaniment in a way which is not always possible acoustically. That said, even when spotlit the Ogden's tone and technique is superb so that it is a delight to listen to. The booklet information is relatively sparse, though there are plenty of photographs of Ogden, and we are really being encouraged to simply put the disc on and relax. In fact it is a pleasure to do this. As I have said, intelligent easy listening, and there is always room for that.

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