Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Tuneful, easy music for guitar and orchestra


Radames Gnattali: Concertinos for Guitar and Orchestra

Radames Gnattali (1906-1988) is such an interesting composer. Nearly 20 years younger than Villa-Lobos, his career in music has much in common with his older compatriot. Both were interested in music at a very early age; both played guitar in popular music ensembles and in silent movie houses; and a melding of popular and classical music became a keynote of their music. However, it's not Villa-Lobos but George Gershwin who Gnattali most reminds me of. Gershwin was only seven years older than the Brazilian, though Gnattali lived a full fifty years longer than the unfortunate George. American jazz was the third x in Gnattali's y along with erudite and Brazilian popular music, while Villa-Lobos had no time for that particular brand of music. These light and tuneful Concertinos for guitar and orchestra include samba and choros rhythms and bits of popular songs, but as the fine liner notes by Emiliano Giannetti explain, this music
... reveals the impact of jazz in the way it includes pentatonic scales, a particular layering of sound, and marked alternation of orchestra and soloist in the form of short, serried passages in dialogue. 
The balance between solo instrument and orchestra is always problematic when it comes to the guitar. Villa-Lobos thinned out his usually full-bodied orchestra for his concerto, which ended up as the Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra.  Even then guitarists struggle to be heard; there's an oft-told story about Segovia's wife urging Villa-Lobos on the podium during rehearsals to quieten down the players. Gnattali also scores transparently and keeps things tuneful and easy. Concertino is the right designation for this kind of music.  Of course it's easier to deal with balance issues in the recording studio, and the sound engineers have found the perfect place for Marco Salcito's guitar with respect to the orchestra.

It's remarkable that these works aren't better known; this disc includes a premiere on CD (#1) and a world recording premiere (#2). Salcito acquits himself well, and with the strong support of conductor Marcello Bufalini and the Sinfonica Abruzzese provides us with a convincing Exhibit A in deciding whether Gnattali's four works deserve a place with the other masterworks for guitar and orchestra in the classic Spanish style, by Villa-Lobos, Ponce, Rodrigo and Castelnuevo-Tedesco. I'll need to ponder this question for a while!

This disc is due to be released on July 21, 2017. This review has also been posted at The Villa-Lobos Magazine.

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