Technique and Soul--CD releases by guitarists John Williams and Riccardo Cobo offer contrasting styles.
Thursday, August 27, 1998
Australia-born guitar genius John Williams will release his newest CD this fall. Called The Guitarist John Williams, it contains Mikis Theodorakis'' Four Epitaphs, works by Carlo Domeniconi and Phillip Houghton, and various arrangements of anonymous dances from the Renaissance and works of Erik Satie. It also features the premiere recording of a Williams original, the four-movement concerto, Aeolian Suite for guitar and small orchestra. William Goodchild conducts this 13-minute charmer which draws its expressive content and textural precision from Renaissance laments and dances.
Of course, Williams has always been a precisionist, happy to display his astonishing technical prowess. By itself, however, technique should serve an expressive purpose and Williams, for all his supreme accomplishments, is not known for disclosing the "feeling" of the music he plays. While that reality invites comparison with more instinctively expressive players, it seems also to have drawn Williams down a path of discovering--even inspiring--a new repertoire for his instrument.
As a result, Williams has proven to be a valuable advocate for new music. His adventures have taken him around the world, stopping at length in Japan for immersion in the music of Toru Takemitsu, and in Paraguay to turn over the pages of Augustin Barrios. His album The Mantis and the Moon CD (Sony 62007) visits Australia, Ireland, Japan, Russia, the Americas and Spain.
Williams'' most recent release, The Black Decameron (Sony 63173), is dedicated to works by Leo Brouwer, the most prolific Cuba-born composer since Ernesto Lecuona. Brouwer has written symphonic works, ballets, film music, opera, chamber music and concertos for flute, violin, harp and guitar. Born in 1939, Brouwer is mostly self-taught, but took instruction for short periods at the Juilliard School and the University of Hartford. Now a resident of Spain, he pursues the joint careers of composer and conductor.
The solo guitar suite, The Black Decameron, was composed for Sharon Isbin and follows evocative tales from the oral African folk tradition as recounted by anthropologist Leo Frebenius. Of greater importance, however, is Brouwer''s Concerto de Toronto which begins the program with Steven Mercurio conducting the London Sinfonietta. Composed in 1987 for Williams and premiered by him at the Toronto International Guitar Festival, this fourth of Brouwer''s six guitar concertos immediately takes its place among the great concertos for the instrument. The composer designed it to be a technical tour de force, and wraps a central set of variations with energized outer movements. The piece is crammed with vivacious writing both for guitar and orchestra.
But Sony''s claim of a world-premiere recording is wrong. Columbia-born Riccardo Cobo''s excellent CD of Toronto (ESS.A.Y 1040) was released in 1995. (The disc also contains Brouwer''s Concerto No. 3 "Elegiaco" which was composed for Julian Bream.)
Comparison between Cobo and Williams is highly instructive. Cobo, who now makes New York his home, plays with consummate technical flair, but also a stylish expressive elasticity missing in Williams. Accompanying Cobo are the Pro Musica Kiev and veteran conductor Richard Kapp who convey a warmer presence than the Williams CD. Mercurio and his crack London band achieve more in-your-face immediacy but with a brittle edge. cw
Last Week''s Quiz: Whose boot spur left a scratch on the Stradivari cello now owned by Mstislav Rostropovich? Answer: Napoleon Bonaparte.
This Week''s Quiz: What famed composer/performer is grandfather to Leo Brouwer?