19th Century Guitar Duos - L’Encouragement
Eudora Records EUD-SACD-1604
Classical - Chamber
Fernando Sor: Fantasie, Op. 54bis, L’Encouragement, Op. 34
Joseph K. Mertz: Nänien - Trauerlieder, Barcarole
François de Fossa: Grand Duo (transcription of Haydn's string quartet Hob. III:8)
Federico Moretti: Grand duo concertant pour deux Lyres ou deux Guitares
L’Encouragement Guitar Duo: Hermania Navarro & Pablo Rioja
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Review by John Miller - October 31, 2016
"Nothing is more beautiful than a guitar, save perhaps two" effused the great early Romantic pianist, Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849). Some musicologists have suggested that he might have composed for guitar, or even played one. However, there is no evidence whatsoever, even in the 'bible' of Chopin scholarship which is the late Krystyna Kobylanska's definitive Katalog of Chopin's work. So his quote should be taken literally; he just enjoyed listening to the guitar. He did, however, give help to his pupils who made guitar arrangements of his pieces.
The guitar he would have heard was an early romantic guitar, a development to six or more single courses (strings) from the Baroque instrument's five double courses. Guitar players, teachers and composers from France, Italy and Germany delightedly took up the new instrument. For a significant part of their careers, most of the renowned guitarists such as Fernando Sor (c.1778-1839), Fernandino Carulli (1779-1841) and Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829) spent much time in Vienna. To the Viennese populace during the Classical/early Romantic, guitars were much more popular than violins, and Vienna remained the centre for guitar until the Spanish guitar was devised, when the guitar centre came to Spain..
Luis Briso de Montiano, writer for this SACD, produced a fine essay of historical information and details of the composers on the programme. He also gives us details of the importance of the guitar duo. The guitar was more portable than a developing fortepiano, which helped it to become popular for amateur players. As well as solos, ensembles of duos, trios, quartets or quintets were common in musical circles, but by the end of the 1700s the guitar duo in particular became highly popular, causing a great deal of work for composers. As Briso de Montiano tells us, by the turn of the C19th, the guitar duo was established enough "to boast a repertoire of considerable musical value".
Duo L'Encouragement Herminia (Herminia Navarro and Pable Rioja on this SACD) present an entertaining and informative programme which illustrates the versatility of two romantic guitars. These were copies made in 2009 by Ángel Benito Aguago, after Coffe Coguette (Miracourt, ca. 1850) and are tonally very rich. According to one of the photographs of them in the venue, their posture is the classical one, each sitting straight-backed on a chair, with one foot on a small extendable foot rest. The Duo launched in 2005, as a natural result of their long friendships. Advantage of a pairing is the combination of their professional experience and musical enthusiasm (easily demonstrated in this SACD). Both of them have won international competitions, have a busy concert trail and also have professorial duties.
The programme is plentiful in length (73:40) and variation. It shows good mixtures of well-known composers such as Fernando Sor who has two 3-part sets, the latter of which is L'Encouragement op. 34, as entitled by the Duo; Mertz and Moretti are less well-known, and there is an intriguing "Grand duo no.9 tiré des oevres de Haydn". This involves a French Parisian publisher in 1826 who took Haydn's String Quartet op.2 no. 2 and had guitarist François de Fossa to arrange them for guitar duo. The 5 movements are played beautifully - I made notes such as "elegant", "nobly flowing conversations" and "cheerful". There are other delightful pieces, and the set finishes with a Barcarole by Joseph K. Mertz, much loved by the Duo. The two guitars divide, with one giving high note plucking while below is a deep-voiced melody, all while they maintain the swinging barcarolic rhythm (usually 12/8).
Recorded in DSD256 with top of the range equipment and recoded to DSD for SA-CD, there is no doubt about the detailed, natural sound in both stereo and 5.0 multi. Somewhat controversially, the recording took place in Auditorio San Francisco, Ávila, Spain. This is a church that was in very poor condition, before renovation, which enabled the space to be both an auditorium and exhibit space. Photographs of the recording sessions in the booklet show the pairs of players set up on the front of the auditorium's stage, playing out into its body. In multichannel mode, hearing the ample reverberation, I had a fleeting query that this could reduce the intimacy of a small ensemble. This was dismissed in a few minutes when it became clear that both players were using the acoustic for shaping their tonal output, much like the practise of opera singers interacting with their auditoria. Very good chamber music players do the same when the acoustics allow it.
At the end of this SACD, you realise how correct Chopin's preference for duo guitars was. This is an attractive programme in an acoustic which makes you feel in the Auditorio yourself. Well done, L'Encouragement!
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