Thanos Mitsalas "In the Italian Tradition"


  1. Francisco Tarrega (1852–1909)
    Variations on the theme Carnevale di Venezia
  2. Luigi Legnani (1790-1877)
    Fantasia Op.19
  3. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968)
    Capriccio Diabolico
    Giulio Regondi (c. 1822)
  4. Nocturne Reverie Op.19
  5. Introduction and Caprice
    Carlo Domeniconi (b. 1947)

  6. Moderato
  7. Mosso
  8. Cantabile
  9. Presto



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About this recording

Looking back through history at the vast body of published music, starting with the baroque guitar, and the towering figure of Francesco Corbetta, to the Classical and Romantic period masterworks by Carulli Carcassi, Molino, Regondi and especially Mauro Giuliani, and finally to the sizable body of works for the instrument from the pen of Castelnuovo-Tedesco, the enduring contribution of Italians to the guitar is obvious. Even considering the significance ofParis,LondonandViennaas centres of guitar activity, the leading role ofItalyin the historical success of the guitar is indisputable.

Among Italy’s great musical personas featured here is the 19th century violinist and composer Nicolo Paganini. His influence was broad and intense and is evident in three of the pieces on the present disc. Paganini’s op. 10 variations on the Venetian popular song Carnival of Venice, written in about 1829 and now frequently performed in truncated form as an encore in violin recitals, is the famous reference point for Francisco Tarrega’s set of variations on the same theme. Paganini’s piece explores seemingly every idiomatic possibility of the violin and serves as the inspiration for a similar exploration on the guitar by Tarrega. The theme here is in given in parallel 3rds and is followed by variations with tremolo, trills, arpeggios, and a famous, centrally placed variation treating the theme in extensive portamento. Both composers choose the key of A-major, which is happily convenient for the guitar.

Luigi Legnani (1790-1877) had one of the most varied careers in guitar history. Originally trained as a string player, he became a composer, (writing some 200 works for guitar including a thorough method) a virtuoso performer on the guitar, a singer of considerable repute, and finally an innovative instrument maker. He is best known for his 36 Capricci in all major and minor keys, the inspiration for which can also be traced clearly to Paganini. Being a singer, it is not surprising that Legnani generously dispenses bel canto melody in these short pieces but they also demand a real virtuoso flair from the performer, often working best at very fast tempi and presuming a perfect fluency with idiomatic devices on the instrument. The op.19 fantasy is of the same ilk, filled with virtuosic flourish but infused with a Rossiniesque melodic dialect. The piece is comprised of an introductory, overture-style opening and a roughly sonata-form fantasy with two central themes.

Cappricio diabolico is one of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s most enduring works for the instrument. The piece is an hommage to Paganini, and its title refers to the rumoured pact with the devil made by Paganini, which was posited as an explanation for his seemingly impossible feats of virtuosity and unprecedented innovation on the violin, both which seemed to spring form nowhere. It contains a quote from the Grand Sonata for guitar by Paganini, a sunny motive with a witty chromatic inflection, which stands in stark contrast to the rather dark, stormy and unsettled character of the Capriccio in general. Capriccio diabolico was written in 1934 while Castelnuovo-Tedesco was still inItaly and followed another large scale piece, the Sonata, an hommage to Boccherini (1932). A few short years later the composer would leaveItaly, fleeing the persecution of Jews under the Italian Fascist government. He became an American citizen and was put under contract by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, writing numerous film scores for MGM’sHollywood production companies.

Giulio Regondi (1822-1872) was born in Genoa, raised in Lyons and lived a significant part of his professional life in the burgeoning guitar centre of London. A musical prodigy, he was paraded across Europe as a child performing on the guitar, by a step father. In the course of his travels, the 8 year old Regondi met the mature Fernando Sor, and Sor, clearly charmed, wrote the Souvenirs d’amitié, op.46, about the encounter.

Until recently, only a handful of works, op. 119-123 (from which the current works are drawn) and a set of studies were widely available. These works are extraordinarily sophisticated harmonically, modulate without constraint, are broad in scope, formally wide ranging, melodically luminous and truly aligned with the esthetic of their own era. Even considering the modest number of works we have from Regondi, the unparalleled quality of his works places him at the very top rank of guitar composers of his own or any epoch. Introduction et Caprice has deservedly become a staple of the repertoire since it’s unearthing in the 1980′s. Rêverie (Nocturne) is perhaps the greatest tremolo piece written for the instrument, predating and easily surpassing in sophistication the more commonly played examples by Tarrega, Barrios and others.

Carlo Domeniconi’s (b. 1947) fascination with Turkish culture takes musical form very firmly in his famous Koyunbaba. The title refers to a legendary figure, Koyun Baba, a 15th century saintly shepherd associated with numerous anecdotes of uncommon wisdom and supernatural feats. The piece is evocative of Turkish folk music and is written in a deliberately non-western, modal vocabulary. The composition is thus unconstrained by the expectation of harmonic progression or predictability of dramatic arch in melody. The dramatic outline of the piece in fact seems to be demarcated by increased (or decreased) note density and is like a long virtuoso improvisation, evocative at times of the whirling dervish. It requires a highly complex scordatura and is scored in parallel staves, one with actual pitches, the other a kind of tablature-notation, showing where the guitarist places his fingers based on standard-tuning note location.

Jeffrey McFadden

            REVIEWS FOR  "Guitar Classics-In the Italian

                        Tradition" (ClearNote-2012)

One can argue with the designation of this program as a representation of the “Italian Tradition”; the first work is by a Catalonian,the last more Turkish than Italian. But that is of small consequence when the program is so well played. Mitsalas has a finely developed technique—this is a challenging program, and he never struggles. He has a wide range of timbre and dynamics, though he never overplays. He has a free yet convincing use of rubato. Overindulgent rubato can really ruin a piece—it should always have a purpose, either to clarify the architecture or to enhance the expression of a phrase. Most important, it should always seem natural and convincing. Some players leave me scratching my head; but with Mitsalas I always feel that this is right, there is no other way to do this passage. He can even make silk purses out of proverbial sow’s ears. Tarrega’s ‘Carnival of Venice’, based on Paganini’s, is not great music. It’s stuff to have fun with. Mitsalas gives it a royal treatment, without any sense of how tacky this can be. Giulio Regondi often overstays his welcome. He had lovely melodic talent, but his massive technical ability causes him simply to keep going until the point of absurdity has been crossed. It takes a great musician to make these pieces work, and I’ve never heard them played better. Luigi Legnani was Paganini’s friend, the guitarist in his many works for guitar and violin. I didn’t know this Fantasia, but it recalls Giuliani (or, more accurately, Rossini) in its sheer joyousness. The Castelnuovo-Tedesco Capriccio Diabolico is one of his most beautiful and most difficult works. In the last issue (J/A 2012) I had good things to say about Renato Samuelli’ s performance, but this is stronger on all counts. The Domeniconi is ubiquitous—the “It” piece for guitarists. There are many strong performances of this hauntingly beautiful work, but this is as fine as any.

Kenneth Keaton - September 2012 (American Record Guide)


As far as the guitar is concerned, I'm not sure there is an “Italian tradition” as much as there is a rich history of Italians writing music for and playing the guitar. (Do we speak of the “pasta tradition,” after all?) Greek guitarist Thanos Mitsalas's new CD explores that “tradition” with most enjoyable results. It opens not with an Italian composer, however, but with one from Spain—the colorful Francisco Tárrega, who was active as a guitarist and composer during the latter part of the 19th century. Apparently no one knows who wrote The Carnival of Venice, but it is has been the theme for variations written by a number of composers, including Paganini (for violin) and Johann Kaspar Mertz (another version for guitar). In their increasing difficulty, Tárrega's variations seem to have been inspired by Paganini's, but Mitsalas seems unfazed by at all, spinning out the ever more complicated figurations almost nonchalantly.The long-lived Legnani (1790-1877) was not only a guitarist, but also a tenor, who sang in operas by Rossini, and others. He too was inspired by Paganini, and even wrote a set of Caprices for guitar. After a grave introduction, his Fantasia takes off on a charming flight of fancy that doesn't sound unlike something that Rossini might have composed, had he composed for the guitar. Castelnuovo-Tedesco came to the United States in 1939 as a result of increasing anti-Semitism in his homeland. This Capriccio diabolico dates from 1934, and also was inspired by Paganini—including by that composer-violinist's rumored pact with the devil! In the United States, Castelnuovo-Tedesco's pupils included film composer John Williams (not the guitarist by that name!). Some of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's concert music sounds like John Williams, although of course it really should be the other way around. The Capriccio diabolico, however, really is steeped in the “Italian tradition.” It is most diabolical in the way that it heaps one difficulty upon another for the performer. Again, Mitsalas copes with it all with a smoothness that seems, well, almost devilish. Although his music has been given a new lease on life in recent years, Giulio Regondi is something of a mystery. Not very much seems to be known about him—there are even questions about the precise date and place of his birth. (He was, however, born in 1822.) Many of his later works were composed for concertina. The two guitar works recorded here quickly entered the repertory of (advanced) guitarists when they were recently rediscovered. The Nocturne “Reverie” is wistful throughout, and its relaxed melodic bent certainly suggests Italy. The booklet notes describe it as “perhaps the greatest tremolo piece written for the instrument,” and if it fatigues Mitsalas, there is no hint of that in this performance. The Introduction and Caprice also has a low-key charm. Regondi may have been a virtuoso, and these two works may be difficult to play, but the emphasis here is on a singing line and on creating a sense of comfort and ease. Here, Mitsalas shows that he can play in a warm, cantabile style; he's not just a dazzler. Carlo Domeniconi is in his sixties, and his “greatest hit” probably is this four-movement suite. Koyunbaba means “sheep father,” which is another way of saying “shepherd.” It was inspired by Domeniconi's travels in Turkey. “Koyunbaba” is also a family name—there was an actual Koyunbaba in the 1200s—and some believe that the land on which he lived and worked is bewitched; many outsiders who have attempted to settle upon it apparently have become ill! Domeniconi's suite could be a curse on unprepared guitarists; it is highly demanding. Again, Mitsalas has it all under control. He aptly conveys the music's mystery and legendary qualities, and generates a good deal of intensity. The final Presto is unbelievable, in its speed and clarity. Mitsalas has been given excellent engineering, although some of the tracks cut off too quickly, robbing some of the decay from the guitar's final notes. The booklet notes give a good introduction to the repertory, but they needed a good editor.

 Raymond Tuttle – August 2012 (


Greek virtuoso Thanos Mitsalas has hopped the pond—in this case theIonian Sea—for  a diverse program of music by Italian composers. It is a fruitful journey, for he brings to this nicely varied program flawless musicianship, winning musicality, and beautiful tone. In fact, my only cavil with the disc is the first work, the Tárrega Variations on the “Carnival of Venice.” In a piece like this, which we must admit does not plumb any musical depths, a sense of abandon is really needed, and at times Mitsalas seems a bit constrained, not technically, but in the necessary sense of playfulness without which the piece is less effective. But from the Legnani Fantasia which follows to the end of the disc, we are fully in the hands of a top-flight player. The Legnani, for instance, displays Mitsalas’ wonderful sense of balance among voices. It is something which should always happen, but often does not. Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Capriccio diabolico gets an exemplary performance distinguished by exquite phrasing, variety of tone and articulation, and well-chosen use of agogic accents. Good job, Thanos! He also has a fine way with two of Regondi’s greatest hits, Nocturne “Rêverie” and Introduction and Caprice. Not to detract from the merits of his performance, these pieces always leave me wanting not more, but less. They seem to substitute rhetoric for real drama. But that’s me—you may love them. Mitsalas is doing everything he can. Carlo Domeniconi is Italian but the Turkish roots of Koyunbaba are a bit out of the “Italian tradition.” No matter. It is a fun piece, very well played here. We’ll just assume that he hopped an alternate pond. Recorded sound is excellent. —

Al Kunze - Soundboard (vol 38, n4)