Remember that post where I mentioned this was coming up? This is the post where I write about the recital. You didn't think I'd mention a recital and not go to it, did you? :)
Daniel Corr put on a very fine recital on Saturday. I'll let you look up his bio and background because that stuff is easily found. I'd like to devote some time writing about what he played and why I liked it.
If you've hung around guitarists, particularly classical guitarists, there can be two rather broad categories of us and by "us" I mean caricatures. There are those guitarists who play warhorse after warhorse for audiences who don't themselves play the guitar and then the second sort, so to speak, grumbles about hearing the same small set of pieces over again. There are guitarists who don't want to hear the Rodrigo concerto ever again because they're sick of it. They may admit to not even listening to most of the music of Sor or Giuliani because they find it daft and they may (or may not) corner you to discuss Henze or Ginastera (personal confession, I still loathe that sonata and couldn't get into Henze despite a weekend immersing myself in the score and a recording (I've since heard) was not the ideal presentation). I just rambled too much ... but blogs are not always for finely refined prose.
I'm happy to report that Corr's program was mostly not warhorses. But the program was full of Rebay, Guastavino, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Barrios, and Fred Hand. In other words, it was a fine balance of works by composers you "may" have heard of and others you'd have to be a specialist to even know about. There was a nice diversity of styles even though all the repertoire technically qualifies as 20th century music.
The opening piece was a set of variations on a folk song "Das Lieben bringt gross Leid" by Ferdinand Rebay. This is a relatively short set of variations and one that I hadn't heard. Rebay wrote hundreds of works for guitar, many of which were unpublished during his lifetime, so there's a wealth of music from Rebay I hope we'll get to hear more and more of over time and it was a treat to hear the variations as the opening piece in the recital.
Rebay's approach to variation form, from what I've been able to hear so far, is heavy on character variation, which is what we'd expect from a composer inspired mainly by the Romantics. Rebay was particularly fond, in my listening so far, for adapting tunes by Schubert for guitar or ensemble with guitar. The dirty confession I have to make is that I don't actually like Schubert's music ... but Rebay had a knack for picking Schubert tunes that sound allright by me and then doing fun things with them. There's something to be said for a composer taking themes by another composer you don't much like and getting you to like things about the other composer's music. On that particular matter Rebay has helped me kinda sorta appreciate Schubert's music, at least when Rebay is playing with his themes. Who knows if Rebay won't help me actually enjoy Schubert in another decade? Corr's playing was pleasing and fluid and he chose a neat, charming little set of variations to open his recital with.
Corr followed up the Rebay with Carlos Guastavino's first sonata for guitar, a work cast in three movements. Sonata allegro form is, as Corr noted during the recital, a rarely used form for the guitar so he was excited to present (and I was excited to hear) a sonata form in a guitar sonata. Often guitar sonatas by name don't necessarily use a sonata form (or in some cases, like Koshkin's massive Sonata for guitar solo the forms are technically used but with a somewhat disappointing disregard for the tonal hiearchy and architecture that, in the hands of the masters, gave the form a vibrant sense of momentum and drive ... but this blog post isn't supposed to be one where I nitpick Koshkin's handling of sonata allegro form)
Guastavino's sonata opens with a boistrous theme in D minor and a straightforward one. Thanks to drop D tuning this work opens with a nice, pleasant bang and the contrast between themes is appealing. What particularly sticks with me about this sonata form, days later, is how deftly the recapitulation got handled. The second group that appears in major in the exposition is presented in parallel minor in the recapitulation, something that seems unusual to me. Sonata forms are rare and sonata forms in minor keys for solo guitar may be more rare. The amount of physical effort to play a major key theme in parallel minor may be enough that in many cases guitarists avoid it unless the theme is very short and that seems to occur more in variation forms than sonata form, so hats off to Guastavino for writing a sonata with a solid recapitulation.
Yes ... this is a theory nerd sorta of recital overview, isn't it?
Guastavino was an Argentinian composer who assimilated folk and popular elements from his country into traditional forms. For want of a better way to get this idea across think of it this way, in the 19th century European nationalistic composers emerged, finding ways to inject regional flavor into what were, in a post-Beethovenian Europe, pretty standardized forms. In the 20th century nationalism and folkloric movements in concert music were more likely to start from the "raw" material itself and work back into more abstract forms or to start with more abstract neapolitan forms and working steadily away into more regional musical detail. I admit to being a bit too lazy tonight to provide examples that go beyond passing references to Villa-Lobos or Bartok as case studies to contrast with earlier generations of composers advocating for national legacies such as Dvorak or maybe Smetena (?).
I'd be interested in hearing more sonatas by Guastavino and it was cool that Corr played this sonata in his recital.
Tre Preludi Mediterranei by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was a work by a composer whose work I've grown steadily familiar with over the last six years and it was nice to hear these pieces, as well (I like the whole program, for that matter). The Tedesco was followed up by the Barrios work Julia Florida, which I thought sounded nice. This is one of those works that has been described as saccharine, sweet to the point of kicking you into diabetic coma territory but Corr played the piece in a way that I found pleasant. There's such a thing as not over-doing sentimentality in sentimental music and letting the music's formal elegance do the work of charming an audience and that is, I think, what Corr did a fine job of doing with an alternately loved and hated staple in the solo repertoire.
The last work intrigued me, Frederic hand's Trilogy. This is a work inspired more by jazz than "classical" music and the rhythms of Dave Brubeck's Blue Rondo a la Turk pervades the work. Since I happen to own a few Brubeck albums I enjoyed this piece. As a form nerd I admit there were a few spots where Hand's form sprawled a little for me but his work has an unerring sense of proportion and timing. He knows how long to run with an idea and develop it before shifting gears into a new idea, and he has a good sense for when to bring back ideas.
Corr mentioned that Hand began synthesizing and consolidating musical elements across classical and popular styles in the 1970s when jazz/classical fusions were rare (and the few fusions there were that I've heard besides Hand were, often, ineffective). Trilogy was a nice jazzy way to wrap up the recital.
The recital's balance of style and form and region was impeccable. I love that Corr was able to begin with the Romantic-inspired sounds of the Austrian Rebay and move to Argentinian sonata forms, visit the Italian expatriate in America through Tedesco's work, and transition through Barrios to end with Fred Hand's work. This kind of program represents a kind of trajectory of emigration in flight from totalitarianism, at least that's my willfully idiosyncratic take on the program (Rebay's wife was Jewish and Castlenuovo-Tedesco was Jewish, both composers who in different ways faced anti-Semitism and both of whom, if memory serves, ended up fleeing their homelands for years). Now I admit that finding such a narrative implicit in a recital program is abstract but if you've read this blog for any length of time ... .
Corr put on a great recital and I'm glad I went. Kudos to Corr for playing music by Castlenuovo-Tedesco and Rebay. :) It's been exciting to hear more of Rebay's work and see that it may get saved from the near oblivion it's been in for decades. I'd encourage you to seek out his concerts if he's playing in a town near you.