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Grand Solos by Stephen Robinson
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Grand Solos by Stephen Robinson

Catalog:  GSFR
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Grand Solos by Stephen Robinson

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  • Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco - Tarantella
  • Isaac Albeniz - Capricho Catalan
  • Asturias
  • Mallorca
  • Agustin Barrios Mangore - Vals, Op.8 - No.4
  • Julia Florida
  • The Old Lime Tree
  • Rex Willis - Capriccio Cantabile
  • Fernando Sor - Grand Solo, Op. 14
  • Manuel Ponce - Cancion Popular Gallega

Before the Second World War, composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) was hailed as one of the Italian "Five," together with the likes of Malipiero and Respighi; his works were frequently performed by Heifetz, Gieseking, and Piatagorsky, as well as the eminent guitar virtuoso Andrés Segovia (whom he met in Venice in 1932). Segovia later reminisced that Castelnuovo-Tedesco demonstrated an uncanny aptitude for the guitar: the brilliant Tarantella, Op. 87b (1936) is ample proof of this judgment. A Sephardic Jew, Castelnuovo-Tedesco emigrated with his family to America in 1939, where he found work in California composing music for films. With his facility for melodic invention and instinctive scoring, he became a master of this genre, producing dozens of Hollywood soundtracks, teaching at the Los Angeles Conservatory, and training a new generation of film composers. Throughout his career and even after his retirement from film scoring in 1956, Castelnuovo-Tedesco continued to love the guitar and to compose prolifically for it, including chamber music and several splendid concertos.

The Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) was a child prodigy on the piano who first performed at the age of four, and who studied at the Madrid Conservatory when he was but nine. At the age of twelve, Albéniz stowed away on a ship to South America and worked his way from Argentina to San Francisco (California) playing the piano, surviving many dangers and hardships along the way. In 1883 he met Felipe Pedrell, the founder of the nationalist movement in modem Spanish music, and began composing character pieces for piano inspired by the landscapes and folk music of his native land. These works, which often evoke the sound of the guitar, are nowadays as often heard on that instrument as on piano. Capricho Catalan was No. 5 in Albéniz' Seis Hojas de album, Op. 165 (1890). Asturias was originally published as the Preludio to Albéniz' Cantos de España, Op. 232 (1896); years later it was included in the expanded, posthumous version of Suite española, Op. 47 (c. 1918) under the title "Asturias: Leyenda," by which it is most commonly known today. Mallorca: Barcarola, Op. 202 was published in 1891.

The brilliant Paraguayan guitarist Agustin Barrios Mangoré (1885-1944) performed throughout South and Central America and the Caribbean, occasionally in the costume of a Guarani Chieftain, and made a tour of Europe in the mid-1930s. Nevertheless, most of Barrios' works remained unpublished during his lifetime and many of the manuscript copies have disappeared, so that today many of his works are only known from transcriptions from the extant recordings. Barrios' Op. 8 was said to have eventually consisted of five waltzes, but only two of these have been positively identified, notably the stunning showpiece Vals, Op. 8. No. 4 (c. 1923). In contrast, the haunting Julia Florida: Barcarola (c. 1938), was written in Costa Rica at a time when both Barrios' career and health were in decline; it was named for Julia Martinez, the niece of a friend.

The eclectic musicologist Matanya Ophee must be credited with introducing the music of Sergei Rudnev (b. 1955) to the West; sixteen of Rudnev‘s elaborate Russian folk song arrangements, including The Old Lime Tree ("Lipa vekovaia"), were first published in Ophee‘s ongoing anthology "The Russian Collection." Rudnev spent his youth in the Volga village of Osinovka and later received formal musical training at Tula, Moscow, and Sverdlovsk; at some point he also mastered the guitar. In Russia, as in Spain, the guitar has a long history. In both countries the instrument developed a formal, "classical" tradition which emphasized elegant settings of folk music, and also inspired fiery improvisations by gypsy and folk virtuosi who pushed instrumental technique to new heights. The uncanny similarities between Russian and Spanish music were noted, not for the first time, by Mikhail Glinka during his voyage through Spain in the 1840s. Rudnev's music is quintessentially Russian; if it sometimes resembles Spanish flamenco, it is probably coincidental, but perhaps not always...!

Floridian Rex Willis (b. 1956) is arguably one of the most creative and unpredictable composers currently writing for guitar. His works, scored for a variety of instruments, range from a moving evocation of the destruction of the rain forests, written entirely for percussion instruments, to several hilarious scherzi for guitar orchestra. The Capriccio cantabile: Homage to Astor Piazzolla is Willis at his most lyrical, alternatingly wistful and witty. The piece was composed for guitarist John Michael Parris, who premiered it in Managua, Nicaragua, in 1995. Although the music does not directly quote the late Argentinian composer and orchestra leader Astor Piazzolla (192l-1992), it is nevertheless possible to detect references to that fore-most proponent of the tango nuevo, and the theme is bridged by a lovely Argentine waltz.

Born in Barcelona, Fernando Sor (1778-1839) received early musical training at the celebrated monastery of Montserrat, but he also pursued a military career. During the French occupation of Spain, Sor joined the more progressive Napoleonic regime, but after the French defeat in 1813, his military career was terminated and he was driven into a permanent exile from his native land. Sor's musical career then took him to Paris, London, and on one triumphant tour, as far as Moscow. He left sixty plus numbered opere for one or two guitars, plus several dozen songs, a few ballets, and other miscellaneous works; his pieces for guitar, especially the large-scale works and the studies are among the jewels of the guitar repertory. The Sonata Prima "Gran Solo, "Op. 14 is a single-movement sonata in the Spanish tradition of Scarlatti and Soler, first published in Paris in c.1810, when the composer was still living in Spain. The soubriquet "Grand Solo" was first applied to this music in the French edition of 1822.

Andrés Segovia encouraged the great Mexican composer, critic, and teacher Manuel Ponce (1882-1948) to write for the guitar when the latter was a student in Paris in the 1920s. Segovia championed Ponce's music and helped him find European publishers; in turn, Ponce provided Segovia with a splendid repertory, including a number of pieces in the Baroque style which for years were presented to the public as authentic works of Weiss and Scarlatti. Ponce‘s delicate and transparent arrangement Canción popular gallega (c. 1927) is not a Galician folk song at all, but rather a Catalan carol, originally entitled "El Noy de la Mar."

Richard Long

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