When I first received Reinventing Guitar: New Perspectives In Guitar Sound (2009), I wasn’t sure what to think. I flipped to the back of the CD and looked at the repertoire performed by Smaro Gregoriadou. Initially unimpressed with yet another recording of Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata K.380/L. 23 and J.S. Bach Lute Suite BWV 995, I was happy to find some new music written by the performer and Yorgos Kertsopoulos. It wasn’t until I noticed the different guitars used to record each of the compositions that I became curious and compelled to listen to it.
The following is a complete list of the repertoire and types of instrument used in this recording:
- Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757): Harpsichord Sonata L23 (Guitar with scalloped frets & movable back/ high tuning)
- Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Lute Suite BWV 995 (Triple-double-single course guitar/ re-entrant tuning (recording premiere) )
- Antonio José (1902-1936): Sonata para guitarra (1933) (Classical guitar with metallonylon trebles)
- Yorgos Kertsopoulos (1952): Some Colour’s Rhythms (Classical guitar with metallonylon trebles)
- Smaro Gregoriadou (1969): Balkan Dance No. 1 on a Bulgarian folk theme (Guitar with scalloped frets & movable back/ high tuning) and
- Smaro Gregoriadou (1969): Balkan Dance No. 2 on a Greek epic song (Classical guitar with metallonylon trebles/ low tuning)
All the music was arranged by Gregoriadou. As I previously posted, Gregoriadou used instruments constructed from the Kertsopoulos Æsthetics methodology. I’d encourage you to review this post before reading on.
Reinventing Guitar is a festival for the ears that explores the different acoustic possibilities offered by Kertsopoulos Æsthetic guitars. The various guitars allowed Gregoriadou to interpret early music more authentically and offered a glimpse into the future acoustic possibilities of the guitar. After listening to other classical guitar CDs in my collection, it does sound as if the three guitars used throughout the album resonate louder than standard classical guitars. However, this could easily be attributed to better recording equipment and techniques.
The most interesting arrangement is the Lute Suite in G minor, BWV 995 by Johann Sebastian Bach. Cellists will recognize this work as the Cello Suite in C minor, BWV 1011. Bach arranged the work for the lute. Normally guitarists transpose the piece from G minor to A minor. By contrast, Gregoriadou’s arrangement is in C minor and is performed on a triple-double-single course guitar. From the first plucked note, the instrument projects a harpsichord-like quality with a brighter, yet round tone. The interpretation maintains the stylistic nuances of the period by effectively using ornamentation and embellishments to convey the character of each movement. I especially like how the use of courses brought out harmonic textures in the Prelude, Courante and Gigue. Classical guitarists will likely debate about the authenticity of the interpretation, but this may very well represent a more accurate depiction of what Bach intended.
Domenico Scarlatti never wrote music for guitar. Despite this fact, many of Scarlatti’s pieces fit nicely on the guitar. Sonata K.380/L. 23 is commonly performed by guitarists, but not on an instrument with scalloped frets and movable back with high tuning. As a whole, the performance is crisp and the tone is very close to replicating a harpsichord. The use of scalloped frets presents some interesting technical challenges because the fingers “float” above the frets instead of touching the fingerboard as they press down on the strings. The sound is much brighter than the typical classical guitar. According to the booklet, the moveable back “alters the air cavity while playing,” which likely influences the way the instrument vibrates and resonates sound.
The “Balkan Dances” is one of the few compositions which uses two different instruments. Balkan Dance No. 1 uses the same instrument as was used for the Scarlatti Sonata. The contemporary work written by Gergoriadou, based on a Bulgarian folk theme, is rich with exotic harmonies and rhythms. Despite the excellent playing, there are moments where the sound is too metallic and distracts from the beautiful melody.
The accompanying Balkan Dance no. 2, based on a Greek theme, uses a single-stringed guitar with metallonylon strings. As the name suggests, metallonylon strings are a combination of metal and nylon used for treble or top strings. The metallic tinge adds an interesting effect to the music.
The single-stringed guitar is used on two other compositions: Sonata para guitarra by Antonio José and Some Colour’s Rhythms by Yorgos Kertsopolous. The Kertospoulos is a short etude-like composition of arpeggios written by the inventor of the methodology. The music explores the different sonorities of the instrument, and evokes the compositional style of guitar composer, Andrew York.
Unfortunately, the Sonata para guitarra is the least successful interpretation, sounding more like an acoustic guitar than a classical one. The José Sonata is filled with rich harmonies and delicate moments, but the use of metallonylon strings create an overly metallic tone. Throughout the Sonata, chord changes sound choppy and the tempo is slower than normal causing the melodies to drag.
As a whole, Reinventing Guitar offers the guitar connoisseur a new way of listening to standard repertoire and includes some enjoyable modern compositions. Classical guitar professionals and students should add this recording to their collection.
It is unclear whether the Kertsopoulos Æsthetics methodology will grow outside of Greece. Instrument makers who push the musical boundaries are bound to succeed in some areas and fail in others. The acoustic range and characteristics of the guitars offer performers the opportunity to make unique interpretive choices for any given composition. Although not all the interpretations were a success, I applaud the effort and support experimentation to push the musical boundaries of the guitar.
All in all, Reinventing Guitar is a grand achievement.