By Clinton White
There’s a special quality about classical guitar playing – it evokes a peace and a calm. Even when it’s doing full-on flamenco or fortissimo agitato, that peace and calm sits underneath comfortably and reassuringly.
And so it is with Rupert Boyd’s new album, The Guitar. In a program as diverse as Bach and Lennon/McCartney, Boyd captures that peace and calm beautifully on his Smallman, from 2011.
The guitar is one of the most versatile instruments. Whilst it enjoys a plethora of music specially written for it, its ability to create melodies and harmonies simultaneously, as well as the full range of expression, means lots of other music can be adapted for it with relative ease. Thus it is with The Guitar, with five of the seven offerings being arrangements of works written without the guitar in mind.
And masterful arrangements they are, too.
Two bossa novas by Jobim are at the top of the program, with Roland Dyens’ arrangement of the first, Felicidade, tricking the listener into thinking the opening driving rhythm will resolve into something quite rocky. But Jobim’s unmistakable bossa stylings come through soon after, albeit in that up-tempo mood that continues throughout. A gentler bossa style follows in Paulo Bellinati’s arrangement of Estrada Branca.
Then follows a brilliant work by the Spanish guitarist and composer, Fernando Sor, who shared the first 13 years of his life with Mozart’s last. He must have liked Mozart’s music (don’t we all?) because he wrote a set of variations on a theme from The Magic Flute. This is a well-known and much-loved work in the guitar repertoire and presents quite some challenges for the guitarist. Boyd meets the challenge head on, giving an assured performance.
Equally assured is his performance of Bach’s Suite in E Major, BWV 1006a, the second iteration of the partita for solo violin, from around 1740. Conjecture has it that the re-working was for the lute, but some argue that it was for the lute-harpsichord (Bach owned a couple). Either way, it fits perfectly on the guitar, and Boyd gives it life and energy.
The Guitar also sports an Australian composition – a work transcribed for guitar from the original piano composition, A Closed World of Fine Feelings, by Graeme Koehne. It’s an introspective work, written for, in Koehne’s words, “a slightly naïve, wonderfully sensitive and somewhat introverted individual”. It has some unique harmonies and a middle section that contrasts the outer parts, and Boyd gives the piece a lovely sensitive treatment – peace and calm shining through.
The second work written specially for guitar comprises the first ten short movements of Cuban composer, Leo Brouwer’s Estudios Sencillos (“Simple Studies”). Boyd paints wonderful imagery from a palette of rich colours, exploring the many timbres of his instrument.
The Uruguayan guitarist Baltazar Benitez wrote arrangements for guitar of some of Astor Piazzolla’s music and The Guitar carries two of them – Milonga del Angel and La Muerte del Angel, composed as music for a play. The first “Dance of the Angel” carries a gentle rhythm, with just an underlying hint of tango, and Boyd plays some beautiful rubato in a most sensitive treatment. The second, “Death of the Angel”, starts much more up-beat and jazzy, with hints of flamenco and tango, and a more reflective, balladic middle section, giving way to a return of the stronger rhythms of the first, building a frenetic climax that ends abruptly. Boyd pulls out the many moods of the piece, particularly in the middle section, almost lulling the listener, before snapping the listener back to attention for the conclusion.
Ending this delightful album is Boyd’s own arrangement of Julia, by Lennon and McCartney. It’s a quite short (2”), reflective piece, which might seem somewhat incongruent to the rest of the program on the album. But it fits quite nicely, with a gentle rhythm and lovely harmonies underneath a very simple (almost single note) melody. There are some modern playing techniques, too, which give it just that little bit of extra colour.
The liner notes are excellent, with each work given an engaging narrative, and in a type face that doesn’t require a magnifying glass. Illustrations are simple, yet poignant. The recording quality is excellent, too; Boyd’s guitar is close-miked, giving the sound a real presence and honesty.
The Guitar is a very warmly entertaining album. Its diverse programming gives it a versatility that takes the listener to many places, from the concert hall to the favourite armchair at home. I’m looking forward to listening to its 60 minutes of warmth on a cold, wet, windy winter’s day, in front of the fire, with a warming single malt, or perhaps next summer in the cool shade of the garden, sipping on a pinot!