Tuesday 28 April 2020

The early Romantic guitar: Johan Löfving takes us into the salons of Europe at a period when the instrument's popularity blossomed

Dionisio Aguado, Mauro Giluiani, Napoleon Coste, Fernando Sor, Giulio Regoni, Luigi Boccherini - Fandango! Music for solo guitar and string quartet; Johan Löfving, Consone Quartet, Nanako Aramaki; Resonus Classics
Dionisio Aguado, Mauro Giluiani, Napoleon Coste, Fernando Sor, Giulio Regoni, Luigi Boccherini - Fandango! Music for solo guitar and string quartet; Johan Löfving, Consone Quartet, Nanako Aramaki; Resonus Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 April 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An exploration of early Romantic guitar music culminating in Boccherini's Fandango guitar quintet

This new disc Fandango! from guitarist Johan Löfving on Resonus Classics explores early Romantic guitar music. Playing a French guitar from around 1850, Löfving takes us on a journey through the salons of Europe, as the guitar becomes a popular instrument. He plays solo guitar music by Dionisio Aguado, Mauro Giluiani, Napoleon Coste, Fernando Sor and Giulio Regoni, and then is joined by the Consone Quartet and Nanako Aramaki for Luigi Boccherini's Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D major, G 448.

The development of the six-stringed guitar at the end of the 18th century meant that the instrument, temporarily, took Europe by storm and it rather left its Spanish roots behind as it moved into the salons of Paris, Vienna and beyond. The instrument's sheer portability meant that it moved away from the stiff aristocratic conventions of keyboard-based music. Schubert played the guitar, and it was Berlioz's main instrument, whilst Paganini carried one around with him constantly.

Löfving opens his recital with a work by one of the leading Spanish guitarists of the day, Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849), a composer/performer who wrote music directly inspired by Spanish folk music, unlike many of his contemporaries. So that his whilst his Fandango Variado Op.16 takes the standard Romantic form of Adagio - Allegro vivace - Allegro, with introduction, theme and variations, the theme itself is based on the Spanish dance of the Fandango. The result is a fascinating combination of Spanish folk-idiom given a Romantic polish.

 By contrast, the Sonata Brillante Op.15 by Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829) takes us right into Viennese classicism. Giuliani was the leading guitar virtuoso in Vienna until 1819 (when debts meant he had to leave), enjoying the company of Schubert, whom we know possessed and played a guitar, Beethoven and Hummel. The sonata is solidly classical in its inspiration, and Giuliani's writing an attractive melodiousness too it. A charming sonata-form Allegro spirito is followed by an Adagio con gran espressione notable for its expressive lyricism, and finally the delightfully perky Allegro vivace finale where Giuliani Italian lyric gift seems to come out.

Napoleon Costa (1805-1883) was a leading Parisian guitarist (and in fact the only one with a French background).  A student of Fernando Sor, he became a friend of musicians such as Berlioz (himself a guitarist). His Soirees d'Auteuil Op.23 is rather typical salon music yet full of melodic charm with a slow introduction leading to a set of variations.

Often regarded as the greatest of 19th century guitar composers, Fernando Sor (1778-1839) was valued as a player and teacher as well as a composer, whilst his compositional output included not only guitar music but operas, ballets and symphonies. His tiny Etude Op.31 No.10 is one of his many pieces written for teaching purposes (and thus to give him a significant publishing income), yet it is also elegantly classical.

Giulio Regondi (1822-1872) started out as a child-prodigy in Europe, before settling in the UK where he developed a mastery of the newly-invented concertina as the guitar fell out of favour. His guitar music has only recently been re-discovered, and his Introduction et Caprice Op.23 is a large-scale show-piece with an introspective Introduction followed by the elegant Allegretto scherzando where Regondi combines an attractive lyricism with the necessary showy writing.

The final work on the disc is the Guitar Quintet No.4 in D major, G 448 by Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) which returns us to another version of the Fandango. Boccherini was an Italian composer and cellist, who travelled to Vienna with his father but in his early 20s Boccherini was in Madrid entering Royal service in 1770, and he remained in Spain until his death.

Boccherini wrote a considerable amount of chamber music including over 100 string quintets (with two cellos). Boccherini's guitar quintets (of which nine survive, and he may have written as many as 12) came about as a result of a commission from a guitar-playing Spanish nobleman who wanted something to play with guitar and string quartet. Boccherini mainly re-used movements from earlier string and piano quintets, but his Guitar Quintet No. 4 is notable for its delightful Fandango finale, complete with castanets.

The Consone Quartet specialises in Classical and Early Romantic repertoire played on period instruments, and this becomes intensely important in Boccherini's guitar quintets to enable the correct balance to be achieved. And for the finale they are also joined by the Japanese-Canadian flamenco dancer Nanako Aramaki on castanets.

The opening movement is a delightful Pastorale, where Boccherini alternates the melodic interest between strings and guitar, though it has to be admitted that the strings get the lions share of the melody with the guitar contributing a lot of attractive passage-work. The performers all bring a lovely delicacy to the piece with the veiled quality of the period strings enabling the guitar to contribute much to the beauty of the textures. The lively Allegro maestoso is again full of imaginative and delightful textures though it has to be admitted that again the strings get the lions share of the melodic invention. The final movement has an evocative slow introduction which leads to the lively Fandango where you get the distinct impression of the rather sedate Boccherini rather letting his hair down, and the performers too!

We rather tend to forget about the guitar as an early Romantic instrument as its popularity was taken over by the piano, but here we have a lovely exploration of the instrument's role in early 19th century music with the Boccherini bringing the recital to a delightful conclusion.

Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849) - Fandango Variado, Op.16
Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829) - Sonata Brillante, Op.15
Napoleon Coste (1805-1883) - Les Soirees d'Auteuil, Op.23
Fernando Sor (1778-1839) - Etude Op.31, No. 10
Giulio Regondi (1822-1872) - Introduction et Caprice, Op.23
Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) - Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D major, G 448
Johan Löfving (guitar)
Consone Quartet
Nanako Aramaki (castanets)
Recorded at Holy Trinity Church, Weston, Hertfordshire, 8-10 & 23 September 2019

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