THREE NEW GUITAR PIECES
By Scott MacClelland
ELIOT FISK and classical guitar colleagues are performing Friday in CSU Monterey Bay’s Summer Arts. Guitarist David Starobin has just released a new Bridge CD of concertos by American composers Richard Wernick and Paul Lansky and a duo by Danish composer Poul Ruders. These are important additions to the guitar repertoire. Wernick’s 15-minute The Name of the Game (2001), in two movements—respectively The Name and The Game—with the International Contemporary Ensemble conducted by Cliff Colnot, starts out with angular percussion and string lines before allowing the guitar some space. Winds and brass enter the fray, all instruments given solos which makes the guitar another member of the ensemble, concertante-style. The Game is generally more circumspect and gives the guitar a substantial solo cadenza, its melodies always angular rather than songlike.
In Ruders’ Schrödinger’s Cat (2012), named for the quantum theory paradox that the aforementioned cat can be both alive and dead at the same time until being observed, Starobin is joined by violinist Amalia Hall. 12 short, strict canons alternating fast and slow totaling 15 minutes, appear to have taken their inspiration from JS Bach’s Musical Offering. They will probably fascinate players more than audiences, but at least with plenty of energy and entertainment.
The real gem here is Lansky’s With the Grain (2009). This is a concerto in the traditional sense of the word; in some ways it reminds me of the fabulous Malcolm Arnold guitar concerto, replete with haunting themes based on retro-diatonic harmonies. The movements are titled Redwood Burl, Karelian Birch, Quilted Beech and Walnut Burl, all prized for their beautiful veneers. They are romantic mood pieces, both exalted and deeply personal, with emotionally expressive solo playing and the Alabama Symphony conducted by Justin Brown. Redwood Burl is like a meditative stroll through our own redwood groves. Karelian Birch, of the northwestern Russian forests, is rhythmically charged and not a little inspired by the music of Jean Sibelius. The 24 minute concerto’s Quilted Beech enters a different forest, as mysterious and enchanting as the shimmering leaves and white-bark trunks in Utah’s alpine highlands. The final Walnut Burl picks up the rhythmic charge of the second movement and propels the work in an exalted finale. David Starobin has long been a major force in new guitar music, much-commissioned for guitar music in America. Excellent playing all round here.