May 27th 2009

Review from February 2002

 

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ENGLISH GUITAR CONCERTOS
Sir William WALTON

Five Bagatelles for Guitar and Chamber Orchestra (adapted by Patrick Russ)
Sir Malcolm ARNOLD

Serenade for guitar and Strings, Op.50
Sir Lennox BERKELEY

Guitar Concerto, Op.88
Sir Malcolm ARNOLD

Guitar Concerto, Op.67
Craig Ogden – Guitar
Northern Sinfonia (Bradley Creswick – Leader) / Richard Hickox
No recording data supplied
CHANDOS CHAN 9963 [66:18]

 

As a rule I am not keen on any added orchestral accompaniment to works that were originally intended for a solo instrument, usually they end up trying to be something they are not. However in the case of William Walton’s "Five Bagatelles for Guitar" Patrick Russ has done an excellent job. His sympathetic arrangements retain much of the written guitar part and general flavour of Walton’s original. The orchestra is never intrusive on the guitar, but always complements it.

A good example is in Bagatelle No.3 where a solo bassoon takes the opening seven bars - the guitar taking over at bar 8, seems quite natural. From bar 16 (marked "espress") the guitar is as the solo version sharing duties with the Cor Anglais at bar 28. Patrick Russ has elected to repeat bars 36-43 and allow the orchestra to swell the proceedings until the guitar once again joins them for the last 8 bars; all very convincing. Sample In the main Bagatelle No.2 is again as its counterpart solo guitar piece was conceived, aided only by light orchestration with solo flute and cello figures at bars 41 and 66 respectively. Sample The two outer Bagatelles, Nos 1 Sample and 5 Sample , are treated in a much more dramatic way which ensures a strong opening and close to the set.

Lennox Berkeley had already written two solo guitar works for Julian Bream (the "Sonatina" Op.52 No.1 (1958) and "Theme and Variations" Op.77 (1970)) by the time he wrote his "Guitar Concerto" Op.88. As a composer Berkeley was something of a traditionalist, his music tonal in outlook. However with this work he veers towards atonality but on his own terms. The result is a most engaging piece of work masterfully crafted. Sample

Whatever musical qualities Berkeley and Walton have (albeit aided by Russ) in negotiating the notorious difficulties of the relatively small sound of the guitar integrated with an orchestra, the honours must go to Malcolm Arnold. His "Guitar Concerto" Op.67 must rank as one of the best for the instrument, bar none. Like Berkeley, Arnold had already written a substantial piece for guitar, "Serenade for Guitar and Strings"Op.50 Sample but the Concerto proved to be a giant step forward musically. The first movement, marked allegro, has two themes of such infectious character, possibly because of Arnold’s skilful application of modes. The use of the Dorian mode for the first theme is particularly striking. Sample The central lento-vivace-lento movement, which at times produces a beautiful oily texture, is a remarkable piece of writing influenced by the composer's love of jazz, especially that of the guitarist Django Reinhardt.Sample Sample The finale con brio-piu mosso is again modal and in the form of a rondo, ending in a dramatic glissando over two octaves. Sample

The Northern Sinfonia under Richard Hickox are splendid in their support of guitarist Craig Ogden whose considered approach to these works is apparent. Of course the strong personality of their dedicatee, Julian Bream, is ever present but Ogden more than rises to the task. A fine disc.

Andy Daly

 

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