Elegy – 20th Century British Guitar Music
Jonathan Richards (the divine art 25008)
All the composers on this compilation ably uphold the English plucked-string tradition… Richards’ contribution is in the form of a clutch of lovingly crafted musical miniatures, harmonically satisfying distillates that take one deeply into the fundamental elements of music. I found the third of Richards’ Mini-Preludes particularly satisfying in its Duartian subtlety. These are tiny aphoristic pieces that make Villa-Lobos’ guitar preludes seem like extended essays. Listening to them, I am reminded of Gorky’s characterisation of the early works of Chekhov each as a Lilliputian bottle holding a quite special, private and precious scent. If Gorky were Mahler, he might have continued the rest of his statement thus: “Next to (Richards’) music, mine sounds as if it were written with a log rather than a pen”.
The same can be said for Terence Croucher‘s Six Preludes, the longest of which clocks in at 57 seconds. Gilbert Biberian’s two contributions are, as their titles imply, patently haiku-inspired and harmonically delicious. The only extended pieces on this compilation are John Tavener’s 11-minute Chant, Alan Rawsthome’s 9-minute Elegy and Terence Croucher’s 6-minute piece by the same title. Each demonstrates Jonathan Richards’ ability to sustain a long line far beyond what should be its breaking point. Jonathan Richards and friends are, by the evidence presented, beguiling composers. Richards’ technical ability is faultless and always squarely at the service of the music at hand. This all adds up to a quite special 65 minutes that are at once an eloquent homage to the guitar and that transcend considerations of time, place and genre.
Reviewer: William Zagorsky (Fanfare January 2000)
“Classical Music on the Web” – January 1999
ELEGY – 20th century British guitar music Jonathan Richards Divine Art CD2 5008
A complete disc of 20th century guitar music is a very ambitious programme and British 20th century guitar music unusual fare indeed. Although the inlay notes state that Jonathan Richards has recorded before, his name is unfamiliar to me, as are five of the composers represented here . Tavener, Rawsthorne and Biberian are familiar, the latter two through their guitar compositions and, although Tavener has become very popular recently, this is his first venture into writing for the guitar.
For the most part, Jonathan Richards,comes across as a precise, sensitive player being selective in the use of his tonal palette, a wise move given the short duration of some of the pieces. His overall tone is good (if at times a little thin on the first string) and seems to be in control as long as he doesn’t force the sound too much as he does in his Nocturne No. 2 and Primitive Rites where the tone becomes a little ‘naily’. His forte is definitely the more lyrical moments.
With the exception of Tavener and Rawsthorne the programme mainly consists of groups of small pieces, some lasting only a few seconds. Jonathan Richards’ own compositions, although interesting, are the least effective and I feel would have worked better if they had been interspersed throughout the programme rather than grouped together at the opening of the disc. However, with Collin Tommis’ Mel Wefus we seem to enter a different musical landscape and Richards seems to be more at home with this piece (even more so than with his own compositions), treating us to some lovely growling bass at the opening. It is a pity that more of this composer is not included here; his is a name 1 will look out for.
Mosaics by John Williamson held less appeal (does a piece lasting only 45 seconds require a subtitle after to indicate it’s meaning)? Gilbert Biberian’s Haiku Nos, 1 and 6 (and why not include Nos, 2-5?) shows an accomplished guitar composer at his best, totally in control of the medium and, here, inspired by Japanese poetry. The two Timothy Harrison pieces, Nova Antiqua and The Face that launched a Thousand Ships, does conjure up the past, Nova Antiqua certainly retaining an early music feel regardless of the liberal use of subtle modern harmonies. Chant by John Tavener is, at just over 11 minutes, the longest of the programme and gives a feeling of spaciousness that Richards’ playing intensifies by focusing the attention and drawing one into the music; for me a high point of this disc.
The Six Preludes of Terence Croucher (the longest only 57 seconds) 1 liked very much, the last giving a nod of recognition to Villa-Lobos. The Little Boat does evoke images of the title and Elegy, a much weightier piece, shows us that there could be more strong compositions from this composer. The closing work, Elegy by Alan Rawsthorne, was the only piece familiar to me. The dedicatee, Julian Bream, recorded it in 1973 and such a strong personality as Bream’s cannot be ignored so comparisons are inevitable; Jonathan Richards takes over a minute longer (9 minutes 9 seconds as opposed to Breams 7 minutes 45 seconds) but maintains the intensity of this powerful work most successfully
A very enjoyable disc that will definitely be worth revisiting; the guitarist conveys his own personality, the overall quality of the recording is good and on the whole the material presented is a breath of fresh air.
Reviewer: Andy Daly
ELEGY – 20th century British guitar music
JONATHAN RICHARDS Divine Art CD2 5008
Any CD supported by the Rawsthorne Trust must surely be of general interest to BMS members; they will certainly find reward in this fine guitar collection, which concludes with Alan Rawsthorne’s last opus, the Elegy, commissioned and completed by Julian Bream. An appropriately sombre and disturbing work, this piece suggested to me Dylan Thomas’s celebrated couplet: “Do not go gentle into that good night Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” A work to repay repeated hearings.
A shorter Elegy by Terence Croucher precedes the Rawsthorne, the last of a series of eight pieces by this composer. Six Preludes briefly explore a variety of musical ideas: the final item is a real winner, as also is the enchanting “The Little Boat”.
The first ten tracks feature Richards’ own compositions: five MiniPreludes, two Interludes, a piece called Primitive Rites, and two Nocturnes. Colouristic contrast, and an impressive array of well-executed effects characterise this attractive sequence. Two of the Preludes find transatlantic inspiration both north and south of the Border and are delightfully easy on the ear. But Stravinskyan dynamism is also present here, in a recording that throughout catches every tonal nuance of the instrument.
Colin Tommis, the prolific J.R. Williamson, Gilbert Biberian and Timothy Harrison are other composers featured in this showcase of British talent: all have something to offer.
Lastly, a big name, John Tavener whose 11-minute “Chant” is designed to conjure up his beloved Greek landscape. Daringly economical in texture, it is perhaps not vintage Tavener, but is certainly atmospheric and evocative.
On all counts – content, recording and performance – this 65-minute CD is highly recommended.
Reviewer: Andrew Seivewright
Classical Guitar – May 1996
INTERMEDIATE MUSIC FOR GUITAR(Vol. 1), ed. John Whitworth Holley Music. 24 pages.
This very well presented album is certainly going to prove popular with teachers for their students at around Grade 2/3 level, the lower end of intermediate’. There are four varied sections covering the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Modern periods. The Baroque is entirely represented by Sanz, surprisingly not often seen at this early stage, very attractive. The Renaissance features the ubiquitous Anon, with some deservedly popular pieces; the only flaw is that these are very widely available elsewhere. It is difficult to get the balance right. The Classical era again includes some delightful customary Carulli, but also some less widely recognised and pleasing Paganini and Meissonier. And I think teachers will really enjoy working with Terence Croucher‘s Seagulls and John Whitworth’s Changing Times, the first redolent of a sad cold winter’s day at the sea, the second very ‘changing indeed’ with its initial chant followed by a vigorous dance in 8/8.
Not one ‘weak’ piece here among the sixteen selections, plus three very decent pages of notes on the works, and their sources. This volume can be safely recommended.
Reviewer: Chris Kilvington
Australian Guitar Journal – Winter 1989
“ELEGY”, Guitar solo by Terence Croucher
Published by Novello, date of composition unknown, copyright date 1981.
This poignant work or 8 minutes duration could be interesting program material for guitar students of approximately an average 6th grade standard. As the title suggest, it has a mournful, poetic style, which holds the listener’s attention through the construction of three contrasting sections each of which announces specific increase in tempo.
The delicate mood which needs control of timing and left hand vibrate on the melodies, the range of dynamic markings, the use of rasgueado and harmonics, simple left hand glissando effects and right hand arpeggio sextuplet patterns, all contribute to a very accessible piece in which the student could really become involved with expressing him or herself. The scope is certainly there for the player to be musically convincing after putting all these things together.
Much of the character of the music is derived from the use of parallel 5th intervals and suspended chords shifting up and down the guitar fingerboard, perhaps similar to Villa Lobos’ approach with moving chord shapes. The work is as good as any to introduce these concepts and possibilities of the guitar to an intermediate student desiring something different in sound to traditional 19/20th century guitar repertoire. Unfortunately it is probably too long for an examination piece, but could be successful if carefully bracketed with other contemporary pieces for a performance item.
As a comment on the edition, there are some slur placements over triplet rhythms which tend to make the music hiccup rather than flow with forward momentum, and this reviewer would like to see publishers more forthcoming with markings of phrasing on contemporary composition publications.
Reviewer: Peter Altmeier-Mort