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.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A dance to a constantly surprising refrain

From January 25, 2010:


Mats Bergstrom's new Francisco Tarrega disc on Naxos is a perfect introduction to the music of this very appealing composer. The Classical Guitar (CG) community knows this music well, of course, but the non-specialist who loves classical music might not be familiar with most of these pieces. That person would be very lucky to come across this disc!

There are exceptions, though, to the general obscurity of this music. In his excellent liner notes, Bergstrom points out one of the most well-known musical fragments in the world: the ubiquitous Nokia mobile phone ring-tone comes from measures 13-16 of the Gran Vals. Go to the Wikipedia article  "Nokia_tune" to check this out. I wonder how many people know that these 13 jaunty tones were written by Francisco Tarrega?

My favourite piece on the disc is also fairly well known: the "Recuerdos de la Alhambra". This lovely piece was on a great Julian Bream LP from the 1960s that introduced me to the classical guitar; that record also included the Villa-Lobos Preludes. It was used to great effect in Hugo Blick's superb British TV series "Sensitive Skin", where it underlined the themes of betrayal, loss, and sadness. This short work is a rare example of a piece of music whose virtuosity is completely overtaken by the mood of the piece. The music is heartbreakingly sad, and it's only when you stop and think about it that you realize how hard it must be to play! Bergstrom's version is a perfect example of virtuosity with only one aim: to communicate the music itself.

The best thing about this disc is discovering all the other moods that Tarrega can evoke in short pieces - many are only one or two minutes long. Some are adaptations of popular music by composers of the day, while others are original character pieces in the form of salon pieces: waltzes and mazurkas, especially. According to Larry Hart's great lyrics to the Rogers & Hart song "My Romance,"

My romance doesn't need a castle rising in Spain
Nor a dance to a constantly surpising refrain

Maybe not, but that's what you get in the music of Francisco Tarrega. Playing a replica of Tarrega's favourite guitar, Mats Bergstrom and Naxos (with its customary splendid presentation and engineering) together present one of the most impressive discs of classical guitar music I've heard in a very long time!

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