Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"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, January 20, 2017

Thoughtful Henze and rich Britten

In this new disc from Alba, the Finnish guitarist Otto Tolonen plays two great 20th century works for guitar that were commissioned and first recorded by the great Julian Bream. It's a natural and appealing combination, and one that's set to showcase the new guitar possibilities that came mid-century, and the capabilities of this fine young guitarist. Unfortunately, the CD of Bream's recording of the Henze is unavailable, though you can listen to the first sonata on Spotify (it's on Bream's Dedication disc from 1984).

Even better, watch this YouTube section of a fine documentary on Henze & Bream that seems an awful lot like a Christopher Nupen film, though I can't find any information about any such documentary in Nupen's catalogue. These are two very appealing fellows!

The first movement of the first sonata, Gloucester, is marked Majestically, and there's plenty of majesty in Bream's version. But Tolonen is from the beginning rather subdued. It's fine playing, though, and Tolonen has plenty of room to turn up the volume later in the piece. It's a thoughtful performance overall, though there are some fireworks, and his approach pays dividends in this serious work.

Benjamin Britten's Nocturnal after John Dowland is another great large-scale work for guitar with early English roots. This isn't always pretty music; it's often martial, and there's plenty of incident between more contemplative moments. Tolonen has the measure of this music, its story-telling and its mood pictures. Alba provides a clear, clean picture of the full, rich sound Tolonen coaxes from his cedar and Brazilian rosewood guitar. Highly recommended.

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