Retratos - Otto Tolonen
Alba Records ABCD 419
Classical - Instrumental
Piazzolla: Las cuatro Estaciones Porteñas
Regondi: Nocturne - Rêverie
Company: Las Seis Cuerdas
D'Angelo: 2 Lidie Songs
Ramirez: Alfonsina y el Mar
Otto Tolonen (guitar)
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Review by John Miller - February 26, 2018
Finnish guitarist Otto Tolonen launches this SACD by telling us that it presents 5 “retratos”, (portraits) of guitar sound-pieces, chosen for this ALBA programme. They were, however, produced by the same instrument. But in spite of them being the work of artists (composer and/or arranger) who were utterly familiar with guitars, they still approached “retrartos” in their own unique way.
Tolonen is regarded as a brilliantly versatile and active classical guitarist. As an artist he constantly looks for new repertoire and he experiments with new concert forms. Tolonen now teaches at the Sibelius Academy at Helsinki, and has held master classes in Finland, Holland, Germany, Italy, Russia, UK and the USA. The recent focus of his own musical studies explores “modern classical guitar” of the 20th and 21st Century, sometimes using jazz. No doubt some of those principals invested the retartos on this disc too.
The well-known Argentine guitarist Astor Piazzolla’s work is regarded highly by Tolonen, especially his 4-part Las Estaciones Porteñas (which was inspired by the Baroque ‘Four Seasons’ by Vivaldi). It is a set of four tango pieces separately produced:–
‘Verano Porteño’ (Buenos Aires Summer, 1965),
‘Otoño Porteño’ (Buenos Aires Autumn, 1969)
‘Primavera Porteña’ (Buenos Aires Spring 1970),
‘Invierno Porteño (Buenos Aires Winter 1970).
Piazzolla wrote his ‘Seasons’ for a violin or viola, piano, electric guitar, double bass and bandoneó, but Tolonen used an arrangement written for a solo guitar by Sérgio Assad, Brazilian guitarist, composer, and arranger.
In his port of the booklet notes, Tolonen called the Piazzolla Four Seasons “superb” and added that he was amazed at how effectively it enabled him to bring out the melodic and rhythmic layering layers of the original quintet version with only one guitar. While Piazzolla’s suite was thought to be about the four seasons in Buenos Aires, in Tolonen’s mind, he also felt that each part reflected different human natures, and the order of the suite in the programme is not in Vivaldi’s original order but Tolonen’s. Following this, Tolonen added a theme from Vivaldi’s originals to each of the Retartos – try to recognise them!
Next is ‘Nocturne – Rêverie Op.19 (1864) by Guilio Regondi. Italian from birth in either Geneva or Lyon; his mother died in his birth and his father took over his management. Little Guilio started to learn a guitar as soon as possible, and he became extraordinarily precocious with his talent and charming personality. At age 8 he had been dedicated in an original solo work by the severe guitarist Fernando Sor. Guilio was next called to London to give a debut concert at the age of 9, where the Press reported that he was “the most enchanting musical prodigy our epoch has produced”. At 14, his father ran away with all the family cash, leaving Guilio in London to look after himself. Tolonen relished the soulful melodies of ‘Nocturne’ in their fluid flows, and enwrapped them with a series of trills, scales soaring up and then goes down into the tenor range for a similar richly warm coda.
Following the second Piazzolla, ‘Verano Porteño’, Alvaro Company’s ‘Las Seis Cuerdas’ (1962-63) is a multi-part of 7 pieces, differing markedly from other contents on the disc. Composed in 1963, it was a new departure in the guitar repertoire, with extended techniques and sheer technical demands, as Tolonen observed. Yet, on study, the piece gradually revealed all its subtle expressiveness. When he met the native Florence Alvaro he was told that ‘Las Seis Cuerdas’ (“Six Strings”) was taught and inspired by no less than Andrés Segovia. Alvaro was at the top of the Italian avant-garde, with eminent Luciano Berio, Luigi Dalapiccola and Bruno Maderna, from whom came atonal roots and twelve-tone techniques.
Piazzolla’s ‘Spring’ follows, then Nuccio D’Angelo (b.1955 in Florence) contributes two coupled songs, which gained international acclaim for this 20th-century masterpiece. In the first, a mood has rhapsodic flow deploying the Lydian scale, which was D’Angelo’s vision of an enchanted visitor in a fabulous garden. The second song is more troubled, around a three-note cell spiralling downwards.
The final Piazzolla section (Winter) preludes the completion of Tolonen’s retarto with Ariel Ramirez (1921-2010). He became a song-writer and amongst the best folk song loved by the Argentine people. ‘Alfonsina y el Mar’, a non-Tango song, arranged by Jorge Cardosa is the base.
With his favourite guitar, a luthier Johia de Jonge, Canada, it is clear that Otto Tolonen’s mind is deeply into collecting and playing retratos with tremendous insight. I was also amazed at the wonderful sound, which also adds to flawless technique, masterly use of articulation, tone colour, subtle rubato and full dynamics. The balanced 5.1 multichannel sound from Vihti Church to the north of Espoo, south of Helsinki acoustic has an ideal 5.1 multichannel sound, thanks to Pekka Vesanen for recording, and together with Otto Tolonen they make balance of pitch, loudness, duration and timbre in appropriate reverberation. Even the stereo channel sounds very good.
The booklet comes with very small print, but I defer to this as there is a mass of excellent information in English and Finnish from Fabio Zanon (São Paulo), together with Tolonen’s comments on several of the retratos.
I am very pleased to hear this SACD, one of the best guitar recitals I have heard in such a beautiful acoustic. Alba, please bring us some more Otto Tolonen.
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