Fantaisie Romantique

19th-Century Eastern European Guitar Music
James Akers
resonus RES10334

With this charming CD, James Akers continues his exploration of guitar music from 19th-century Ukraine and its neighbours. He plays music by seven composers on three different guitars: by Pietro Pettoletti (c. 1795-c. 1870) on a six-string guitar; by Johann Dubez (1828-1891), Nicolai Petrovich Makaroff (1810-1890), and Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856) on an eight-string guitar; and by Mikhail Polupayenko (1848-1902), Johann  Decker-Schenk (1826-1899), and Nicolas Pavilstscheff (1802-1879) on a nine-string guitar. All three instruments have their first six strings tuned the same as a conventional Spanish or classical guitar from Western Europe (EAdgbe’), and although some of these composers also wrote for the seven-string Russian guitar with its distinctive open G tuning (DGBdgbd’), none of that repertory is included on the present CD. The instruments with two or three extra strings may at first sight look weird, because the extra strings are fixed equidistant from the other strings at the bridge, but splay out away from the sixth string to their own separate nut leaving quite a gap between the sixth and seventh strings. I guess that this enables the instruments to feel the same at the nut end, and allows the player space for his left-hand thumb to reach round the neck to stop notes on the sixth string.
The harmonic palette of these guitarist-composers is at times somewhat restricted – take away all the tonic, dominant and diminished seventh chords, and there is not always so very much left – but the simple melodies decorated with appoggiaturas and acciaccaturas, occasional chromatic touches, flourishes of arpeggios up and down the neck, and a tessitura widened by extra strings in the bass and extra frets at the treble end of things, combine to create an overall effect which is pleasing to the ear, and would have provided easy listening for salon audiences. No doubt the listeners would have felt at home if they recognised popular folk melodies or well-known tunes from operas, and would have been impressed by the virtuosity of flashy, extrovert variations. Each item is quite short – a total of 39 tracks lasting a mere 63 minutes.
From Oleg Timofeyev’s interesting and informative liner notes we learn that Mikhail Polupayenko was born in Kharkiv, studied medicine in Kharhiv and Kyiv, and gave guitar recitals throughout the Ukraine. His last performance was in Bakhmut in 1902. His Fantasia on Zaporozyhe Themes consists of five short contrasting movements, now slow, now fast, ending with an exciting Allegro vivo where repeated riffs get faster and faster. It brings to my mind Cossack dancers wearing furry hats, with baggy trousers tucked into their boots, kicking out as they crouch down, and calling out with triumph and joy. One thing is for certain: Polupayenko’s music is pleasantly brought to life with Akers’ interpretation and his subtle contrasts of tone colour.
Polupayenko’s Fantasia was dedicated to his friend, the Austrian-born guitarist Johann Decker-Schenk, who moved to Russia in 1861. There is much variety in his music too: Ukrainische Weise is enhanced by some delicate harmonics, and the third movement of his Fantaisie Romantique has a tremolo effect sounding like a Neapolitan mandoline.
Unlike the other composers represented here, Johann Dubez was Austrian. He was a versatile musician who played the violin, harp, mandoline and zither, as well as the guitar. His flamboyant Fantaisie sur des motifs hongrois pour la Guitare consists of 11 short items, including Tempo di Marcia, a setting of the well-known Rácóczi March. The music for the Fantaisie is available online for free download from the IMSLP website, where you can see evidence of his extravagant style, including an Allegretto with fast, arpeggios up and down the neck of the guitar followed by five sextuplets, a passage of descending quavers, rounded off with a super-fast rising scale in broken octaves, diatonic for the first octave and chromatic for the second.
Virtuosity is a constant feature of the music of Nikolai Makaroff, and his Fleurs du Nord, Op. 3, No. 1, also available on IMSLP, are no exception. He finds various ways of catching a casual ear’s attention, including a tricky passage in “Down on Mother Volga”, where the melody is played entirely in harmonics. James Akers makes it all sound so easy, but it most certainly is not.
Pietro Pettoletti was born in Norway, lived for a while in Germany, moved to Sweden when he was 25, and eventually settled in St Petersburg. In his liner notes Oleg Timofeyev explains that Pettoletti’s Fantaisie sur une Romance favorite de Paschkoff, Op. 31, consists of variations on the song, “He fell out of love with me”, by Alexander Guriliov (1803-1858), and that there are no apparent links to the eponymous Paschkoff.
Akers ends his CD with Nicolas Pavilstscheff’s Grande Fantaisie sur un motif de l’Opera “La fiancée” d’Auber, Op. 25 – a splendid showpiece deserving much applause.
Stewart McCoy

The Poor Branch

Nineteenth-century guitar music by Ivan Klinger (1818-97)
James Akers guitar
resonus RES10302

Ivan Andreevich Klinger (1818-1897) was born in Kherson, Ukraine. His guitar music is little known today, although much of it is available online at IMSLP. Unlike so many of his contemporaries from his part of the world, Klinger wrote for the six-string classical guitar, or Spanish guitar, rather than the Russian seven-string guitar with its characteristic open G tuning of DGBdgbd’. Klinger’s music is very easy on the ears – charming melodies decorated with occasional chromatic inflections and virtuosic interjections – arpeggios, harmonics, changes of tempo, glissandos, but always lyrical, and exploiting the full range of the instrument. Klinger’s compositional skill and James Akers’ sensitive interpretation combine to produce a premiere recording which has been a pleasure to review. The CD is enhanced by excellent liner notes from Oleg Timofeyev, who puts the pieces in context, and provides a wealth of interesting information about them.

Fantasy no. 2, is an attractive piece with considerable variety. An Introduction opens with two phrases, each consisting of five plucked chords, a flourish of single notes, and harmonics; there follows a short passage of arpeggios marked diminuendo, followed by a tremolo marked accelerando. The mood is set for three folk song melodies: “In the garden”, “I love Peter”, and “A birch tree stood in the field”. Each melody is played with variations, including an extraordinary and very effective imitation of the balalaika: the note b is held at the 4th fret of the 3rd string acting as a drone, occasionally dipping down to a# for a first inversion of the dominant; the melody is sustained on the first string; and the second string fills out the harmony, often duplicating in unison the b of the third string; all chords are strummed, but only involving the first three strings of the guitar, creating second inversions of E minor. This is just like the balalaika, which has three strings, is strummed with the fingers, and typically involves unisons and unavoidable inversions of chords.

So much of Klinger’s music is cheerful, but a change of mood comes with “Elegie par Henri Vogel”, which begins with a sad melody sustained by gloomy repeated chords low down in the bass. In his liner notes Oleg Timofeyev explains that the music was originally a composition by Henri Vogel (1845-1900) for viola and piano, and he describes what Klinger has done to adapt it for solo guitar.

The title of the CD, “The Poor Branch”, comes from the title of a song composed by Nikolai Titov (1800-75), which Klinger arranged for solo guitar adding his own variations. It is heard as the penultimate track of the CD. One can easily imagine Klinger captivating 19th-century salon audiences in Ukraine and thereabouts with his playing, and hopefully James Akers will succeed in introducing Klinger’s music to a wider audience today.

Stewart McCoy


In the Garden of Polyphony

French Renaissance Music for Lute and Guitar
Israel Golani (Renaissance lute and Renaissance guitar)
Solaire Records SOL 1010

Israel Golani’s CD is an anthology of French music from the 16th century for lute and for guitar. His gut-strung 6-course lute built by Martin Shepherd has a lovely sound quality, particularly in the treble; as was customary for 6-course lutes it has a high octave string on the fourth course. Golani also plays a similar lute built by Alfonso Marin, which sounds a semitone lower, and has no high octave string on the fourth course – fewer treble notes, but clearer for polyphony. The guitar pieces are played on a 4-course renaissance guitar also built by Alfonso Marin.

Golani begins with Albert de Rippe’s intabulation of Pierre Sandrin’s “Pleurez mes yeux”. De Rippe tracks Sandrin’s chanson closely, but with the addition of flowing divisions, mainly quavers. Golani’s playing is clear with nicely shaped melodic lines. I do like the way he plays cadential semiquavers in this piece – neat, in time, and without interrupting the flow. Some of De Rippe’s accidentals are surprising. The piece is essentially in F major, but De Rippe adds sharps to the f’s in the second bar; they would not have been sung in Sandrin’s original, but they are effective on the lute. Surprising harmonies also appear in De Rippe’s lengthy Fantasie quatriesme. His intabulation of “Un jour le temps” is given an unhurried, sensitive interpretation.

Golani includes pieces from the first two books of lute tablature to be printed in France: Pierre Attaingnant’s Tres breve et familiere introduction (Paris, 1529) and Dixhuit basses dances (Paris, 1530). Track 7 is an intabulation of the tender chanson for three-voices, “Fortune laisse moy”. It is a lovely piece of music played well, so it is a pity there is a wrong note – 18 notes from the end – where Golani plays f’ instead of b’ flat. The note is b’ flat in Attaingnant’s original and in Daniel Heartz’ edition, so I guess Golani made his own copy, and accidentally wrote tablature d on the wrong line. The Branle gay “C’est mon amy” whizzes along at a gay speed. Basse dance “Beure frais” lacks its Tourdion, which would have added a refreshing change from C minor to C major. Golani opts for a nice slow tempo for a gentle “Dolent départ”, but succumbs to adding erratic touches of rubato. Playing out of time does not necessarily make a piece more expressive. As with the music of Albert De Rippe, there are some surprising accidentals, including a false relation involving e’ natural and e flat. It might have lost a mark in an ‘O’ Level exam, but such clashes add a certain expressive piquancy, especially when played on a lute. For “Amy souffrez” Golani turns to a manuscript source, Öffentliche Bibliothek der Universität Basel Musiksammlung, Ms. F IX 56, which has more divisions and unexpected accidentals than Attaingnant’s more familiar printed source.

One of the pieces published in Louvain by Pierre Phalèse is Allemande (track 4), which also appears in various guises in non-French sources, including the Willoughby MS, where it has the title “Grenes Alman”. The Willoughby divisions are twice the speed of Phalèse’s fast notes, which makes me wonder if Golani’s interpretation is a bit on the fast side. At any event I would have preferred the rallentando to occur after (not during) the divisions over the dominant of the final cadence.

The 4-course guitar was popular in 16th-century France. Nine different collections were printed in the 1550s, and another printed in 1570 survives. Golani plays six pieces from these guitar books together with his own intabulation of the basse dance “Auprès de vous” from Attaingnant’s Second Livre (1547). The texture is inevitably thin, and all four voices cannot be sustained. However, it is a nice arrangement, and Golani captures the essence of the piece in a tasteful way.

There is much variety in Golani’s collection, which includes lute music by Adrian Le Roy, Guillaume Morlaye, Jean-Paul Paladin, and Julien Bellin. It ranges from Morlaye’s catchy little Gaillarde with a plethora of bluesy flattened sevenths, to Bellin’s strict three-part counterpoint in his Trio. Golandi plays the Trio twice, the second time with his own divisions added. I like what he does – sometimes the extra notes simply fill gaps between notes a third apart, but other times he is more adventurous, for example with some nice jazzy syncopation introduced towards the end. The CD ends where it began, with an intabulation of Sandrin’s “Pleurez mes yeux”, this time in a setting by Guillaume Morlaye for 4-course guitar. Never mind that harmless wrong note in Track 7 mentioned earlier. Golani’s performance is really excellent, and makes for a most enjoyable CD.

Stewart McCoy


Napoli 1810

Italian Romantic Music
Pascal Valois
Analekta AN 2 9195
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Pascal Valois presents a programme of music composed by three Italian composers who flourished in the early part of the nineteenth century: Niccolo Paganini (1782–1840), Mauro Giuliani (1781–1829), and Ferdinando Carulli (1770–1841). He plays a guitar by Cabasse-Bernard built c. 1820, and tunes it to A=430. I wonder if the 10th fret is placed incorrectly, because the high d” sounds flat 19 seconds into track 3 – either that, or the string was tuned flat. There is no information in the liner notes about the strings Valois uses, but there are unfortunately loud high-pitched squeaks as he slides his fingers along the three lowest strings which are wound. On the whole I like his interpretation, which I think is appropriate for music from this period. He brings out a clear melodic line which allows the music to sing, and he phrases here and there with tasteful rubato. His performance is enhanced by a pleasing variety of contrasting tone colours.

Valois begins the CD with two movements from Paganini’s Grand Sonata for Guitar M.S.3. Interestingly the original publication has the title “Grand Sonata a Chitarra Sola con Accompagnamento di Violino”. The violin adds little of substance, and it is thought that it may have been included as an afterthought. Valois manages perfectly well on his own without inviting a friend to join him on violin. As to be expected of the great violinist Paganini, his guitar pieces are tricky to play, and it is their virtuosity which makes them attractive to the listener.  In the Andantino variato Scherzando, for example, Valois’ fingers scamper up and down the neck with a variety of contrasting ideas – triplets,  fast scales, parallel sixths, tremolos, the melody in octaves, chords interspersed with flashy flourishes – but the harmonic structure is extraordinarily banal – just tonic and dominant with a modulation to the dominant in both sections, and with the brief respite of a passing subdominant approaching the final cadence.

There follow Six Andantes for Guitar Op. 320 by Carulli: Andante affettuoso con poco moto in G major, starting with the same first four notes as Silent Night, and ending with a 3-octave arpeggio to top g”, echoed by a few fluffy harmonics and a descending arpeggio in octaves; a nicely paced Andante con moto in E major, where a slow, gentle, lyrical theme is followed by an exciting sequence of arpeggios and later by a sudden, dramatic shift to E minor; Andante molto sostenuto in A major with passages of descending triplets, of slow-moving chords supported by repeated notes in the bass, and a rising chromatic scale from low E marked “ritardando” leading us back to the opening theme; Andante giusto in F major, which has many notes clearly marked with an accent in Carulli’s manuscript (see IMSLP) – not consistently observed by Valois; Andante legiero e grazioso in the soft key E flat major, with an exciting run of fast notes including a glissando in bar 23; and Andante risoluto in the bright key of D major to finish.

The history of the guitar – of the 4-course instrument of the 16th century, the 5-course instrument of the 17th century, and the 6-course instrument of the 19th century – has been bedevilled by a lack of bass notes, and compromises involving less than satisfactory inversions of chords have been inevitable. So it is with Giuliani’s Guitar Sonata Op. 15. At the end of the first and last movements he wants a big chord of C major, ideally with a low C in the bass. Unfortunately the lowest note available on his 6-course guitar is a third higher at E. Rather than make do with a root position chord with a high bass c, he writes a first inversion chord using that low E. It may sound odd, but better to finish with a first inversion than lose sonority in the bass.

Other pieces of music by Carulli are Guitar Sonatina Op. 59 No. 1, and Guitar Sonata Op. 159 No. 1. In his liner notes Valois says that both are world premiere recordings. The Sonatina  may have a certain charm, but it is not great music.  It consists of a slow Larghetto and a sprightly Rondo Allegretto. If you removed all the tonic and dominant chords, there would be little left to play. Some relief comes in the Rondo with a brief digression to the minor. The Sonata – just a Larghetto – is more satisfying, and benefits from Valois’ sensitive playing.

Stewart McCoy