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Johan Fostier - Guitar Recital
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was stimulated by images, both visible and in the mind, and stories, one of which was the book Platero y yo, written by the Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1958). It recounts the beautiful story of his life and travels with his faithful donkey Platero, whose death he finally mourns. Although the music was originally intended to be performed simultaneously with the recitation of the text, which Castelnuovo-Tedesco considered to be important for the understanding of the former, it is rarely presented in that way. A complete performance lasts for about fifty minutes. Consequently it is usual, with the composers perhaps reluctant approval, to make a selection from the 28 instrumental movements, as is done here. The titles evoke their own images: Melancolia (Melancholy), El canario vuela (The canary flies), Primavera (Spring), Platero en el cielo de Moguer (Platero in the sky above the little town of Moguer where Jiménez was born, that is in heaven), Arrulladora (Lullaby).
In December 1929 Segovia wrote to Manuel Ponce, asking him to write a set of variations on the theme of the Folias, the earliest form of which, he said, was Spanish and for the lute. In fact the Folias originated in sixteenth-century Portugal as a wild street dance and in passing into Spain it evolved into a stately dance with changed rhythmic and harmonic structure. Thence it travelled to Italy and, taken by guitarists of whom Francisco Corbetta was one, to France. Its history in this later form is somewhat complex and reflects its wide popularity. Together with the above letter Segovia sent the score of Corellis famous variations and suggested that if Ponce did not wish to put his name to the work they might attribute it to Giuliani. Ponce succeeded briefly in passing for Weiss - but for Giuliani? Fortunately it was never put to the test.
In Segovias recording of 1932 the theme is given in a bare-bones period form but in the published edition it was adorned in chromatic dress, as it appears in this and all later recordings. Though Segovia had asked for twelve to fourteen variations there are only nine in his recording. As the published edition contains twenty variations it seems that the recording was made whilst the work was still evolving. Moreover, while the earlier (recorded) variations clearly follow the harmonic ground of the theme, the later ones diverge, suggesting that Ponces imagination had by then adventurously moved into new pastures. The Postlude, recorded in 1931, is overtly based on the harmonic ground, which indicates that there may have been other variations which Segovia set aside but re-titled. The subject of the extensive fugue, complete with pedal point and stretto, is based on the first note in each of the opening bars of the theme. Segovia asked that the variations should explore a wide range of musical and guitaristic textures; they do so and, in its totality, this work has been fitly described as The guitars Old Testament.
The life of Vincente Asencio overlapped those of both the new-wave romantic and the avant-garde Spanish composers, but he did not quite fit into either category. He rejected atonality as uninteresting and though he declared himself to be a tonal composer his was not the cloudless tonality of, for instance, Granados or Albéniz. Although his music often expressed uncomplicated and ebullient joy, it perhaps more often reflected his quiet, reflective and devout character; he described himself as un intimiste and underlined it with his Collectici intím. The three Homages are restrained but have no element of mysticism. Tango de la casada infiel (Tango of the unfaithful wife), dedicated to García Lorca, is cheerfully Spanish rather than Argentine, the Elegie has the reflective character of the Homenaje, pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy of Falla, its dedicatee, with passing echoes of El amor brujo. There is however little connection between the Sonatina and Domenico Scarlatti, save perhaps a few of the latters characteristic, teasing repetitions, and occasionally Moreno Torroba springs to the ear. A homage does not however have to mimic the style of its eponym; it can be a simple act of tribute and respect. On the whole, the keynote of these pieces is intimacy. Guitar-oriented travellers to Southern Spain may like to know that the ashes of Asencio are immured quite close to the graves of Francisco Tárrega and Daniel Fortea in Vilareal.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco was sparing in his homages; in the realm of guitar music he paid them only to Boccherini (in his Sonata), to Segovia (Tonadilla on his name), the seven various tributes within his Op. 170 and, in his Capriccio diabolico (1935) to Paganini, a fellow Italian composer and contributor to the repertory of the guitar. The diabolic element refers to contemporary reports that, not least when playing difficult passages, Paganini appeared to be possessed by the devil, but such passages constitute only a part of the Capriccio. Other more tranquil moods are traversed, with more lyrical grace than Paganini ever achieved. One of these foreshadows the emotional climate of the slow movement of his Guitar Concerto No. 1 (1939). So where does Paganini come into the picture? Near the end Castelnuovo-Tedesco quotes directly from his La Campanella. It appears as a fitting conclusion, not as an irrelevant intrusion, but then one would expect no less from Castelnuovo-Tedesco.
John W. Duarte
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Guitar Recital: Johan Fostier