The compact collection:

Castelnuovo-Tedesco: 'Les guitares bien tempérées'; Tom Kerstens: 'Black Venus'; Andres Segovia

Rob Cowan
Friday 30 August 2002 00:00
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Forty years ago, the Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco paid homage to Bach with the 24 preludes and fugues of his Well-tempered Guitars, though the end result was "Bachian" more in principle than in overall spirit. Claudio Piastra's complete recording dates from 1993, and is something of a tour de force given that he tackles both parts himself, without the aid of a computer. Any hint of "self-cueing" is skilfully disguised, while the recordings achieve credible integration between two channels. Some performances are remarkable in the way they suggest two stylistically contrasted players (in the polarised dynamics of No 12, for example) while others are pleasingly homogenous.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco evidently absorbed a wide range of influences, from Bach in 3 and 18, through Schubert in 5 (a halting rhythmic figure and a sombre melody), Grieg in 7, popular song in 10, and the expected Spanish flavouring in 20 and 22. The fugues are fairly free in style, the Preludes frequently expansive both in terms of their length and their sectional design. It's a rich cycle musically that seethes with shared activity (the tightly knit dialoguing of 17 must have been a nightmare to record), and great fun to listen to.

The guitarist Tom Kerstens has prepared two enterprising CDs for the BGS label, the first of them being a new music collection called Black Venus. The opening and in many ways most imposing track is Giles Swayne's 14-minute "Solo" where an imagined black slave guitarist attempts piecing together a remembered melody. Shorter works by Errollyn Wallen ("Three Ships") and Howard Skempton ("Five Preludes") offer Kerstens plenty of scope for colouristic effects, and so does Takemitsu's mesmerising "Equinox". The second CD, Zapateado is a homage to Rodrigo, attractive repertoire including the joyful "Sonata Giocosa" and "Three Spanish Pieces", both brilliantly played. Wallen, Skempton and Edward McGuire chip in with appealing "homages" of their own.

Interesting to compare Kersten's account of the Rodrigo "Sarabanda" with Andres Segovia's on a newly released DG collection The Art of Segovia, the one warm to the touch, the other crisp, incisive and variously shaded. But then comparisons aren't really fair. Segovia (pictured) was a musical miracle. That sound, the subtle quiet slides, the split-second shifts from voluptuousness to brittle attack and the countless gradations of colour in between. And then the inimitable vibrato (its countless levels of intensity), the timing and dynamic swells. DG's selection edges on 160 minutes and includes such favourites as Tarrega's "Recuerdos de la Alhambra", Villa-Lobos's Prelude No 1, key pieces by Sor and Torroba, Bach transcriptions and the "Sarabande" from Handel's Fourth Harpsichord Suite (recently made famous by a Levi's ad).

The back page of DG's excellent booklet teasingly promises a four-CD "Segovia Collection" (471 430-2), but in the meantime this Art of... is more than enough to be going on with. Most of the transfers, from American MCA originals (Brunswick to us here in the UK), are crystal clear.

And if perchance you're prompted to investigate Segovia's earlier Bach recordings, then Istituto Discografico Italiano has gathered them together on a cheap CD. It's odd that the pre-war recordings of short individual movements should be technically superior to a muffled transfer of the mighty "Chaconne" (recorded in 1947), an inspired sampling of Segovia's arranging skills and a truly wonderful performance.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco: 'Les guitares bien tempérées' – Claudio Piastra (Warner Fonit 0927 43353-2, two discs)

'Black Venus' & 'Zapateado' – Tom Kerstens (BGS/ Metronome CD106 & CD107)

'The Art of Segovia' (DG 471 697-2, two discs)

Andres Segovia: Complete Bach Recordings 1927-1947 (Istituto Discografico Italiano/Priory IDIS 6381)

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