Thursday, May 19, 2016

CD Review – Fantasias – Rupert Boyd, reviewed by Clinton White

One of the feathers in the very crowded cap of guitarist and teacher, Timothy Kain, is Rupert Boyd.  But you don’t get to where Boyd has been, and is yet to go, without in-built talent, and Boyd has that in abundance.  Kain would only have had to help Boyd discover the nuances of his talent.

Boyd is Canberra-born and -bred (now based in New York) and studied at the ANU School of Music, Manhattan School of Music and the school of music at Yale University.  He’s performed all over the world, including at Carnegie Hall, where you only get to perform if you’re up at the top in your chosen field.

His latest album “Fantasias”, so called because there are four in the program, seems to bring all that together but at the same time sets him on a path to even greater heights.

What’s really interesting is that this album features music from across five centuries of music composition as well as from countries as diverse as Australia and Argentina, England and Brazil, Italy and Hawaii.  And it’s all played on one guitar.  But Boyd’s amazing tonal and stylistic controls in each piece are thoroughly intuitive to their time and place.

Boyd’s guitar playing is as authentic to the sound of the lute in John Dowland’s “Fantasie” as it is to the beautiful sound of the slack-key guitar in the “Fantasy on a Hawaiian Lullabye”.  Even folkies will whistle and dance to his folk guitar stylings in the set of four traditional Celtic songs – one from Ireland and three from Scotland.

Two pieces from the Australian composer, Phillip Houghton – almost essential on any Australian guitarist’s program – are included: “God of the Northern Forest” and “Kinkachoo, I Love You”.  Although written nine years apart, the composer, says the liner notes, “suggests that they be performed as companion pieces”.  Boyd seems almost to give them extra-special treatment.  And they do go quite nicely together.

There’s plenty more besides and in each piece Boyd’s playing is brilliant with wonderful clarity, dynamics and tonal definition.  The recording quality is excellent, too, giving the listener an up-close-and-personal experience.  At the same time there’s just a touch of spaciousness with the recording made in a church just outside of London in November 2015.

Presentation of the product is simple, but does feature a stunning photographic panorama shot, taken by Craig Yarbrough, with Boyd standing on a clifftop overlooking the Grand Canyon – the US connection.  Boyd wrote down-to-earth notes on each track and they provide interesting reading to accompany the listening pleasure.

The concert-like programming on “Fantasias” is thoughtful and entertaining.  The 19-track offering, giving just over an hour of music, starts and finishes with a flourish and leads the listener through every emotion and stylistic variety in between.  It is compelling “can’t put it down” listening; I almost wanted to applaud at the end and would have liked an encore.