Sor Guitar Works

Author: 
John Duarte

Sor Guitar Works

  • Sonata for Guitar in C, 'Grand Sonata I'
  • Divertissement
  • (8) Short Pieces, 'Petites pièces'
  • Sonata for Guitar in C, 'Grand Sonata II'
  • Fantasia No. 12
  • Fantasia No. 13, 'Fantasia élégiaque'
  • (25) Studies, 'Leçons progressives'

The consecutive grouping of items within these two discs indicates that what is underway is an integral recording of Sor’s guitar works, a task that is widely divided rather than left to one single performer. It is an oeuvre that is perhaps the most consistent in quality, and most manageable in quantity of any major guitar composer of the period. At that time the styles of guitar composers lagged behind the leading edge, so that whilst Sor was born and died later than Beethoven his language was closer to that of Mozart, barely on the edge of romanticism. He was a polished and elegant composer, whose works have more quiet emotional content and expressiveness than those of any of his contemporaries, and though he often calls for technical virtuosity he doesn’t lean too heavily on it.
The Fantaisie Op. 58 is not one of Sor’s more riveting works, indeed it boasts only one other recording, by Luis Orlandini in a programme of the Fantaisies. Goluses plays it in a somewhat matter-of-fact way – you would hardly guess that Sor had marked some passages with dolce, as at 1'34'' of track 3. The Fantaisie elegiaque, arguably Sor’s finest single work, elicits a very different response from Goluses, a deeply sensitive and dignified reading in which the moments of silent grief are given the breathing-space and time they call for. Sor devoted five opus numbers to his 97 studies, of which Op. 60 was the last. Each has a clear technical and/or musical purpose, even when Sor does not declare it, and even the simplest is lovingly crafted music – which is how Goluses treats it, with lots of care lavished on it. It should be remembered that the guitar of Sor’s time differed from today’s in construction, stringing and sound, and that Sor played without using the right-hand nails. Goluses uses a modern instrument and plays with nails, which inevitably leads to differences in sound and, to some extent, interpretation. Given and accepting the differences, Goluses sets a bench-mark for present-day guitarists. It is tragic that the Danish guitarist Leif Christensen did not live to complete his project to record all Sor’s studies; he used a period instrument (though with right-hand nails) and would have provided a wonderful and complementary account; who can/will do it now?
The major works in Holzman’s programme are the two sonatas, each with four movements. Of these Op. 25 is by far the finer – and the best work of its kind from the period; the last movement is a Minuet, a final lightening of the atmosphere that was not then uncommon. The Divertissement, Op. 23 contains ten pieces – Valses, Allegrettos, Andantes, a Minuetto and (!) an Allemande. With a few exceptions they are, like the studies, more likely to be of interest to guitarists than to the general listener. Holzman plays very well, with a softer sound than Goluses, and in a tighter acoustic. At slower tempos he exercises a pleasing degree of rubato and commendable dynamic shading; one wishes he had done likewise in the quicker ones, which incline to the metronomic. These are two discs that should, both in their own right and at super-budget price, be irresistible to guitarists.'

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