Guitar Concertos of the 20th and 21st Centuries
Even if you’re not a fan of David Chesky’s Concerto for electric guitar and orchestra or Yngwie Malmsteen’s Concerto Suite for electric guitar and orchestra, chances are you’ll fully dig this electrifying world premiere recording of American composer Michael Daugherty’s attractive and moving Gee’s Bend (2009). The eponymous Alabama River community is known for the vibrant colours and jumping geometry of its quilts (one is pictured on the CD cover) – qualities Daugherty has captured in his own four-movement ‘musical quilt’ woven from blues, rock, spiritual and contemporary classical music material. But Gee’s Bend, which finds its ideal advocates in the ear-bending German multi-instrumentalist Thorsten Drücker and the superb Cologne WDR Radio Orchestra under Rasmus Baumann, is no mere pastiche.
From the Hendrixesque ‘Housetop’, with its dazzling cadenza, through the gently rippling arpeggios and pentatonic figurations of ‘Grandmother’s Dream’ and the bluesy, concertante-like ‘Washboard’ to the raucous high energy of ‘Chicken Pickin’’, Daugherty skilfully blends rigorous Apollonian compositional technique with the Dionysian world of riff and distortion pedal to create a unique and worthy homage to the talented slave-descendant quilt-makers of Gee’s Bend.
At first I couldn’t see the connections between this work and film composer Elmer Bernstein’s occasionally cheesy yet superbly crafted and often inspired Guitar Concerto or Malcolm Arnold’s brilliant Guitar Concerto, Op 67. Then I began to hear them: the energy of the dance; the drawing on popular and folk music idioms; the unashamed yet highly inventive use of traditional harmony. An unusual and impressive release.