Monday, July 22, 2019

New Azica Album of Guitar and String Quartet

from the Web page for this recording

Guitarist Jason Vieaux seems to have a particular interest in forming partnerships. I first encountered him in the summer of 2015, when I listened to Together his duo album with harpist Yolanda Kondonassis released by Azica Records. As a Guitar Series recitalist for San Francisco Performances (SFP) in October of 2017, he shared the stage of Herbst Theatre with Julien Labro playing both bandoneon and accordina (a variant of the melodica using accordion buttons, rather than the usual piano-like keyboard). (The two of them had previously recorded an album of the music of Astor Piazzolla joined by the A Far Cry chamber orchestra.) As a result, when Vieaux returns to the SFP Guitar Series this coming October, it will be my first encounter with his giving a solo recital!

I was therefore not surprised to see that his latest Azica release involved another partnership, this time with the Escher Quartet of violinists Adam Barnett-Hart and Aaron Boyd, violist Pierre Lapointe, and cellist Brook Speitz. The title of the album is Dance; and it presents compositions by (in order of appearance) Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Aaron Jay Kernis, and Luigi Boccherini. That title seems to have been motivated primarily by the Kernis selection, “100 Greatest Dance Hits.”

Kernis was born in 1960, and his title was apparently inspired by the sorts of record advertisements found on late-night television during the Seventies. The piece was composed in 1993, by which time his reputation as a composer had been established. He clearly wanted to have fun in making this piece; but, considering the annoyingly raucous content that served as inspiration, the result was pretty bland. The only other reference to dance on the album resides in the final movement of the fourth (in the key of D major) of Boccherini’s nine guitar quintets, which is a fandango.

The Castelnuovo-Tedesco quintet, on the other hand, was written at the request of the virtuoso Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia and become the composer’s Opus 143. Castelnuovo-Tedesco first met Segovia in 1932 and was inspired to write his first composition for solo guitar shortly thereafter. His relationship with Segovia flourished, resulting in almost one hundred compositions for guitar. Opus 143 was composed in 1950. It is part of the Segovia discography, and he recorded it with members of the Italian Quintetto Chigiano.

I have to say that, as had been the case with the Together album, I did not find this new release particularly stimulating. Vieaux seems much more in his element when he is establishing chemistry with an audience. My first encounter with him at Herbst I found to be both absorbing and compelling, and I am looking forward to listening to him there again in the coming season. This new album, on the other hand, presents performances that are capable but little more, leading me to wonder what were the motives behind this project in the first place.

No comments: