Variations, Passacaglias and Chaconnes
I was a bit sniffy in December about Alice Artzt's last recorded recital (AVM/BMG), feeling that it contained rather too much for the guitar connoisseur, rather too little for the rest of us, but she is such a fine and such a musical player that it is a pleasure to welcome this new collection with very few reservations. Inevitably her Bach Chaconne will not suit the purist. Some of its fast figurations, perfectly natural on the violin, are awkward for even the most adroit guitarist, and she is obliged to adopt a careful tempo for it, but her cantabile playing is lovely and her tone-colour beautifully wanm and clean. Apart from the Weiss (originally for lute, but played with such noble gravity and fine line that not even a lutenist could grudge her adoption of it: a gorgeous performance) all the other works here are originals—the piece by Bogdanovic actually receives its premiere in this recording—and not one of them can be dismissed as 'guitar music' rather than 'music for the guitar'.
What, even the Sor, I hear guitar-infidels sarcastically rejoin? Yes, even the Sor, which for all its dutiful putting of the player's technique through its paces has a demure, early romantic charm to it. So do the Fossa variations, roughly contemporary with Sor's: amidst the attempts to convince you that guitarists have three hands there is an attractive, plaintive lyricism here. I was most impressed, though, by the three contemporary works, all of them by guitarists (in Obrovska's case, to be quite precise, by the wife of a guitarist), but none of them are wedded to guitar cliche or to writing showpieces. Obrovska's short study, indeed, with its spare and angular lines and its avoidance of mere figuration, whets the appetite for her music for other instruments; 'approachable East European modern' would be an approximate definition of her style.
Koshkin is more concerned with extending the boundaries of guitar sonority (some striking, muted-sounding effects; hard but clean percussive chords) but he is enough of a real composer to maintain a sense of forward movement (characteristic of the passacaglia form which is the collection's theme) throughout an eight-minute span. Bogdanovic ought to be most taxed by the demands of writing the sort of piece implied by that theme and his title, since his language is basically non-contrapuntal (not surprisingly the promised fugue fails to appear), but his florid monophony, referring both to medieval and to near-Eastern music, is appealing and lingeringly memorable.
The recording is close enough to render the full warmth of Artzt's playing with maximum fidelity, but not so close as to over-emphasize the athletic choreography of her left hand. An attractive recital, and not just for adherents of the Guitar Tendency.'