Joaquin Rodrigo (1901–1999)
[3.47] 1 Tiento Antiguo
Miguel Llobet (1878–1938)
[7.54] 2 Variations on a theme of F.Sor, op.15 (“folias de Espana”)
Alexandre Tansman (1897–1986)
[10.16] 3 Variations on a theme of Scriabin
Joaquin Rodrigo (1901–1999)
[8.30] 4 Un tiempo fue Italica famosa
Astor Piazzolla (1921–1992)
[4.54] 5 Primavera Portena
[6.50] 6 Invierno Porteno
Simone Iannarelli (b.1970-)
[5.08] 7 Tribute to Keith Jarrett
Sergio Assad (b.1952-)
[5.32] 8 Prelude
[4.03] 9 Passacaglia
[3.57] 10 Toccata
Program duration: [1.00.51'']
“Ancor piece” (Bonus Track)
Andrew York (b.1958-)
[3.54] 11 By Candlelight
CD available from www.clearnote.net
Recorded: July 2015 – Cue Productions (Thessaloniki-Greece)
Sound Engineering/Mixing: Yiannis Mavridis
Mastering: Karl Wolff
Program Notes: Thanos Mitsalas
Guitar made by Thomas Humphrey - Spruce-top “Millennium” model - 1999
Strings: D'Addario Pro-Arte Carbon EJ46FF (trebles)
D'Addario Pro-Arte EJ46LP (basses)
Design: Clear Note – www.clearnote.net
“Tribute“ recording project invites you to leave the daily stressful rhythms and concerns of life behind. The listener should open his mind and soul so as to experience healing and spiritual regeneration through music. The program mostly follows the structure of a live recital presentation and is dedicated to this great inspiring music created by distinguished composers over the last hundred years. The musical canvas includes many and diverse compositional styles like impressionism, flamenco, jazz, latin, neo-classicism, etc. All these musical gems blend so easily together to lead to an unpretentious familiar journey surfacing treasurable musical memories. So, let the music begin!
Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999) was one of the greatest Spanish composers of the 20th century and one of the most prominent and innovative writers for guitar of all time. Although he was a non-guitar-playing composer, Rodrigo is one of a few mainstream writers who left a substantial legacy for the classical guitar repertory.
Tiento antiguo (Old Tiento), written in 1947, is an impressionistic sketch or lyrical poem. It was intended 'to evoke the music of the vihuela', although there is no obvious connection to the qualities of this early instrument and rather closer relation to modern or flamenco guitar. Its meditative and nostalgic character is enhanced by the extensive use of arpeggios, while the cantabile and cadenza sections feature Iberian ornamentation reminiscing the flamenco tradition.
In the 1980s, Rodrigo wrote little more than 10 minutes of guitar music. Un tiempo fue Itálica famosa (1981), marks a return to landscapes, this time on a monumental scale. The music is ornate, with flamenco overtones; a vivid portrayal of the magnificent ruins of the city near Seville.
Spaniard Miguel Llobet (1878-1938) is the guitarist/composer that together with his compatriot Andrés Segovia (1893-1987) firmly established the course which led guitar to develop into one of the most widespread string instruments today. Llobet took the necessary steps to continue what Tárrega had started: create new music, make transcriptions of contemporary composers, develop and expand pedagogical practices for the guitar. Tárrega never toured outside Western Europe, whereas, Llobet followed the life of an international concert artist at the opening of the 20th century by travelling to venues on other continents. Llobet’s publications number approximately 75, including original compositions or arrangements on works of noted composers.
A favorite for centuries among European composers, the ancient theme of the “folia” inspired a number of works, including Fernando Sor’s Variations op. 15. Borrowing from op. 15 the theme and the first two variations, Llobet adds 8 more variations and a romantic “Intermezzo” that display an ingenuousness in modern harmonic technique with devices exploiting several technical aspects of the guitar, including left-hand only variation, harmonics and quick slurs.
The composer and virtuoso pianist Alexandre Tansman (1897–1986) spent his early years in his native Poland, but lived in France for most of his life. For eight years (1938-1946) the war forced him to move to the States where he established close friendships with composers such as Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Milhaud.
Tansman was persuaded to write for the guitar after having been introduced to Andrés Segovia during his stay in Paris in 1921. His Variations on a theme of Scriabin, dedicated to Segovia, was written in 1972, although Tansman later reworked some parts of the harmonization of the original work. The theme, Scriabin’s Prelude, Op. 16, No. 4 in E flat minor (for piano), was also arranged and published for solo guitar (in B minor) by Segovia earlier in 1945 (publ. Celesta Publishing Co., New York).
The composition has six variations, each one focused on different musical and technical aspects. Variation I conveys the theme to the bass line, with an accompaniment in the treble. Variation II (slightly faster), explores the harmonic potential of Scriabin’s melody, while Variation III is a contrasting lively (Vivo) episode in semiquavers. Variation IV explores the changes of tonality through ingenious modulations. The fifth variation, Allegretto grazioso (quasi Mazurka), is the composer’s homage to Poland and reference to the great Frederic Chopin. The final variation is a tight contrapuntal fugato movement, which ends with a quieter slightly altered statement of the theme.
The Argentinian composer and virtuoso bandoneonist Astor Piazzolla (1921-1972) is known as the world's foremost composer of tango music and especially as the inventor of nuevo tango, a new style of tango which incorporates elements from jazz and classical music. His four compositions Estaciones Porteñas or The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires were originally conceived and treated as different compositions rather than one suite, although Piazzolla performed them together from time to time. The pieces were scored for his quintet of violin (viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass and bandoneón. By giving the adjective porteño, referring to those born inBuenos Aires, the Argentine capital city, Piazzolla gives an impression of the four seasons in Buenos Aires.
Brazilian composer/guitarist Sergio Assad arranged this set of pieces for solo guitar in 1994 as a commission by Gendai Guitar Magazine (Japan). Two pieces of this four movement set of arrangements are presented here in this CD; Primavera Portena and Invierno Porteno. These tracks demonstrate Assad's ingenuity in creating polyphonic textures that are closer to the source and to the style, and that circumvent the limitations of the guitar. The form remains very clear, with great variety of texture, tempi, keys and mood between sections, reproducing the form of Piazzolla's original quintet version almost identically.
Simone Iannarelli (b.1970) is an Italian composer/guitarist. During the last decade he has been living in Mexico where he teaches guitar at the University of Colima. In his compositions Iannarelli almost instinctively follows an idiomatic romantic sound palet, but not only. Different string tunings, diverse sonorities and exotic harmonies create moods from heavenly peaceful to completely lively and vibrant. In his Tribute to Keith Jarrett (published in 2010), one can easily feel the Jazzy mood just from the first notes. Polymetric writing and vital melodic motives, follow a fluid rhythmical pace that leads to climax points always at the right time.
Simone points out on his Tribute: “It was not necessary to use a theme of Keith Jarrett, after so many hours listening to his genial improvisations on the piano. The Tribute came out quite effortlessly and this demonstrates how his unique style influenced my music. My purpose was to try to catch the free spirit of improvising in an almost academic piece (basically the main theme is developed from the middle of the work through its extremes). Some years ago, after a KJ Trio concert in Rome, I gave to his staff the score. I hope he could read through and have a little smile. Forever Grateful”.
The program concludes with Sandy's Portrait (2013), a composition created by the Brazilian composer/guitarist Sergio Assad (b.1952). As a member of the legendary Assad Brother Duo, Sergio's fame as a great performer has been spread all over the world for almost the last five decades. Alongside with his performance activities, he has established his name as one of the most prolific and successful composers of the guitar world internationally. This is the premiere (CD recording) presentation of Assad's original work for solo guitar Sandy's Portrait. I quote the composer's original notes about the piece:
“Sandy's Portrait (2013) is part of my ongoing collection of 'Portraits', which started with Eli's Portrait in 2004. In 2013, I was asked by the chairman of the guitar department at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Prof. Thomas Patterson, to write a piece in memory of Dr. Sanford Bolton (Sandy) who was a guitar aficionado and strong supporter of the classical guitar program of the University. I had the opportunity of meeting Sandy a year ago before he passed away, and I had a chance to chat with him a little bit, discovering many things about his fascinating life and his love for music and the guitar.
Sandy's Portrait is written in three movements and it is based upon the name of the dedicatee.
The technique that I use to create a theme based on someone's name is to set the seven notes to a diatonic scale ABCDFG into a diagram and then to overlay this diagram with the 23 letters of the alphabet. So as first step, I submitted Sandy’s name to that diagram. Sandy Bolton’s name came up with the set of notes EAGDC for Sandy and BAEFAG for Bolton. The second step was to run the set of notes though the different harmonic keys. I chose the key of E major carrying 4 sharps and got a better melodic shape with the altered notes EAG#D#C# for Sandy and BAEF#AG# for Bolton.
After the theme was created, I just had to think of a form in which to write the piece. Remembering the conversation with Sandy, I started writing the Passacaglia, which carries Sandy’s full name as a theme. After the Passacaglia was finished, I had the impression it needed more material around it to make it more compelling. So, naturally, the idea of a longer piece materialized. I imagined then a set of three pieces that could reflect Sandy’s taste for Baroque, Romantic and Latin American music. Afterwards, by simply adding the ancient forms of Prelude and Toccata to the existing Passacaglia, I was able to accomplish my task.
The idea of repeating the Passacaglia’s theme in the last movement was obvious to me once it carried Sandy’s name, but I couldn’t leave the opening movement out of the picture. So, I decided to create a quasi 19th century romantic theme as the first movement that would serve as the one piece representing Sandy’s taste for strong melodies and that could also be repeated and crossed with the Sandy’s theme in the third and final movement.
For the last movement, I chose the typical Brazilian rhythm of Baiao with its strong accents and exciting dance gestures. The third movement is, in fact, a free concept of the Toccata form, with a slow middle section inserted, rather unusually, into the very energetic and fast outer sections. This serves to blend the two main themes from the first and second movements of Sandy’s Portrait using a system of call and response.”
The next piece By Candlelight, mentioned as “bonus track”, is intentionally put here as an “ancor” piece after the presentation of the main body of the program. It is offered as a “musical gift” for the listeners who enjoyed Tribute project and want to extend their enjoyment!
American composer/guitarist Andrew York (b.1958) is a diverse musical personality, influenced by folk, jazz and classical styles. The extended use of different elements in his compositional style blend together to form a unique new language that easily captivates the listener. York's meditative lyrical work By Candlelight is included in his seven short movement Suite “Kinderlight”. In this composition he musically explores memories derived from his childhood, as well as aspects of the child-like nature.
REVIEWS FOR "TRIBUTE" (ClearNote - 2017)
According to the notes Tribute invites ‘spiritual regeneration through music’ and if that sounds a bit wishy-washy, then I suggest listening in a more actively engaged way – the rewards are many.
Thanos Mitsalas has constructed an attractive programme that reaches back as far as Llobet, includes two pieces by Rodrigo and some fine contemporary pieces that showcases the art of the guitar today. Llobet’s Variations on the Theme of Folias de Espana is something of a recital favourite, taking Sor’s Op 15 variations as its source material for the first two variations, adding eight further variations and an intermezzo. Full of fanciful wit and elegant roulades, with a positively charmingly played intermezzo, Mitsalas scores highly by virtue of his stylistic aplomb and deft articulation. He’s equally persuasive in Rodrigo – full of reflective and expressive refinement in Tiento Antiguo, a kind of impressionist tone poem, with its vihuela evocations prominent. Rodrigo explored Sevillian landscape in his much later Un tiempo fue Italica famosa, full of flair and flamenco exuberance as well as more lofty vistas, rich in poetic esprit. Tansman’s Variations on a theme of Scriabin dates from 1972 and alternates wistfulness and a more animated sense of drama, including meditative and fugato sections.
Mitsalas has selected two movements from Piazzolla’s Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas and he brings out their evocative and lyric beauties with assurance. The Italian composer Simone Iannarelli has been living in Mexico for a number of years and his Tribute to Keith Jarrett is intended to show how the pianist has influenced Iannarelli’s music; consequently it doesn’t sound either like a reflection or pastiche of Jarrett’s music but something altogether more organic and stylistically tangential. Sergio Assad is widely admired as performer and composer and his generously appointed three-movement Sandy’s Portrait has a dancing Prelude – with a small admixture of contrastive tristesse – a rather lovely Passacaglia, and a terpsichorean and very engaging Toccata finale. To conclude there’s a piece introduced as a bonus, Andrew York’s By Candlelight, a most attractive and sensitive envoi. It brings to an end a splendidly played recital.
Jonathan Woolf – September 2018 (MusicWeb International)
Thanos Mitsalas' latest disc, Tribute, isa beautifully constructed program, played extraordinary well. Mitsalas has abundant technique – a necessity given some of the repertoire chosen! – and a dramatic musical imagination.
The underplayed Tiento Antiguo by Rodrigo begins the program with an evocative and deeply felt performance. It leads very well into Llobet's take on the “Folias” theme, executed with perfect fluency. The exquisite Tansman Scriabin variations lead to one of Rodrigo's most formidable works, Un tiempo fue italica famosa. (Only the insane Elogio de la Guitarra probablyexceeds it in difficulty among the composer's solo works.) Mitsalas meets its demands handily. Two of Piazzolla's seasons are presented in Sergio Assad's arrangements. Assad is also represented in the premiere recording of his “Sandy's Portrait.” The liner notes give perhaps too much detail on how Assad derives the melodic material of his portraits from the honoree's names, but the agreeable melodic nature of the three movements justifies his compositional process. Also included are brief works by Simone Iannareli, a Keith Jarrett tribute, and as an “encore,” Andrew York's By Candlelight.
The beautiful recorded sound allows Mitsalas' Thomas Humphrey Milennium model guiter to shine. Presentation and notes are exemplary.
Al Kunze - March 2018 (Soundboard Magazine)
Mr Mitsalas continues to impress me—I have reviewed his work often (M/J 2012, S/O 2012, S/O 2016), always warmly. Here he presents a set of works inspired by something outside the composer and pure form, programmed with beautiful balance and exquisite playing.
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but it was the Llobet that gave me most pleasure. It’s an odd work, which starts with the theme and first two variations from Sor’s Folias variations (I believe it was first published as Variations on a Theme by Sor). Once he gets into the work, he explores some of the most virtuosic passages Llobet ever wrote for guitar, including a variation for left hand alone. Indeed, it has been beyond the technical command of most of the performances I’ve heard, until Mitsalas. He has no fears from any of the passages, and his performance sparkles.
Then there are the two rarely heard Rodrigo works, each performed as well as one can imagine. Tansman’s Scriabin Variations holds together better than in most performance. I also took great delight in Sergio Assad’sSandy’s Portrait, a tribute to Dr Sanford
Bolton, a strong supporter of the guitar at the University of Arizona, Tuscon. The thematic material was based on pitches assigned to the letters of the alphabet—a technique that usually fails, but not here. Indeed, this is one of the prettiest passacaglias I’ve ever heard (the other two movements are a prelude and toccata). The designated encore is a lovely Andrew York piece, ‘By Candlelight’.
Mitsalas’s playing is flawless—and, more than that, unfailingly tasteful and deeply expressive. Virtuosic passages sparkle, contemplative passages draw the listener into profound beauty. He is one of our finest artists.
Ken Keaton - March/April 2018 (American Record Guide)
Two different albums by Greek guitarist Thanos Mitsalas have crossed my desk this year (the other was Sérgio Assad: Chamber Works for Guitar and Strings), and both showcase a formidable guitarist with excellent taste in 20th and 21st century repertoire. A mellifluous and meticulous player, Mitsalas excels here on a pair of pieces by Rodrigo (including his exciting, highly nationalistic late work Un tiempo fue italica famosa, written in 1980 and dedicated to Angel Romero); two movements of Piazzolla’s suddenly ubiquitous Estaciones Porteñas (extra points for choosing the gorgeous, less-played Invierno Porteño!); “Variations” on Scriabin and the traditional Folia de España by Tansman and Llobet, respectively; Simone Iannerelli’s Tribute to Keith Jarrett, which somehow manages to sound like one the American jazz pianist’s improvisations; and, perhaps not surprisingly, a recent work from Sérgio Assad, the brilliant three-movement Sandy’s Portrait (2013), with its transcendently gorgeous “Prelude,” Bach-inspired “Passacaglia,” and closing “Toccata” which, Assad writes in the album notes, “is a free concept of the toccata form, with a slow middle section inserted, rather unusually, into the very energetic and fast outer sections.” Wonderful!
The album closes with what is labelled as an “Encore piece” (which begs the question: why?): a poignant version of Andrew York’s popular By Candlelight; a nice choice to top off a consistetly outstanding program.
Blair Jackson – January 2018 (Classical Guitar Magazine)
Outstanding guitar artistry in a presentation of several first-rate contemporary works—Assad, York, Piazzolla—as well as a stupendous Alexandre Tansman “Scriabin Variations.”
(Thanos Mitsalas; guitar)
In the liner notes to this 2017 release by the Greek guitarist Thanos Mitsalas, we are told that the artist is “steadily achieving recognition as one of the leading virtuosos of his generation.” The first half of the CD at hand, Tribute, earnestly substantiates those claims, emphasizing finger-wiggling velocity on a technically daunting polyphonic piece by Alexandre Tansman called 3 Variations on a theme of Scriabin. This is a impressive piece, and at 10:16, the longest on the record. The enigmatic Scriabin theme leads the guitar far away from the typical guitaristic ambience, into the realm of heady Modernism that is nicely fit to the demands of the guitar.
The first track Tiento Antiguo, an inward looking lyrical piece with a minor mode brooding but few Iberian gestures, is by Rodrigo. The same composer is featured on track four, Un Tiempo Fue Italica Famoso, a dark piece that alternates between Iberian castanet-accented strumming with florid passages of excessive virtuosic self-consciousness. The sound engineer has achieved a big close-up sound; the instrument (made by Thomas Humphrey) is vivid, with much timbral nuance between strings and registers.
The second track features Llobet’s variations on a theme of folias de Espana. The first subject is a stately utterance and, on this instrument, sounds ravishing in its presentation. However, the descending bass line, immediately recognized as the ‘Folias’ chord progression promises that there will be 77 reiterations of this harmonic pattern. The hectic divisions (as they are called in pre-Baroque practice) are a catalog of guitar cliches, but the progression itself feels like the oppressive straight-jacket the guitar has been trying to escape for centuries. A nearly eight minutes, it is a mix of technical display and aural flogging.
Two of Astor Piazzolla’s season Portenos come next, Primavera and Invierno. The first contains puckish harmony with some fancy counterpoint. Technically beyond reach of all but the most skilled hands, the piece is carried off with dazzle by the Greek guitar virtuoso. Both pieces have sweet passages which are played with rapt concentration. Invierno wafts lyrical with intricate sonic effects and harmonic detail but little discernable design. If it is aiming for an evocation of snow, it arrives merely at fog.
The title track Tribute is dedicated to Keith Jarrett and continues the trend towards moody sweetness. I don’t know how many of Keith Jarrett’s musical personae could be conjured up from this ambitious piece, but it is very effective. It begins with some of the relentless, trance-induced drive of that sui generis improviser and sweeps along breathlessly with gushing lyricism. The composer, Simone Iannerelli, has achieved a great success with this recording and must be thrilled at the mastery displayed by Mr. Mitsalas.
Sergio Assad’s Sandy’s Portrait follows. One is reminded that the legendary guitarist is a substantial composer, for it is a piece of depth and refinement. The Prelude has so much unexpected harmony supporting an exquisite lyric, while the Passacaglia has a more agreeable use of a chord cycle and ends on an unadorned major chord. The Toccata again demonstrates the guitarist superb articulation on both a bustling and thoughtful couple of themes.
The recital ends with the heartfelt By Candlelight, a affecting but simple theme with a repeated plangent melodic notion over simple minor chords. Andrew York has one foot in New Age music, but is a capable composer of pastoral sensibility. It is a curious choice to end the recital so modestly rather than with one of the big pieces. Perhaps it can be taken as a show of confidence by this outstanding guitarist, who has much more than just virtuosic prowess on demonstration in this outstanding release. Altogether an impressive concert by a first-rate musician.
Fritz Balwit - Nov 2017 (Audiophile Audition)