The music of this project depicts different stochastic states of mind and soul reflecting ‘past’ - ‘today’ and ‘tomorrow’ through the prism of love, faith and hope. It is a tonic addressed mostly to those who don’t stop to imagine, think and dream!
The disc is introduced with the lyrical piece Per Sofia (2005) written by the gifted Italian guitarist-composer Simone Iannarelli. It is representative to the composer’s exceptional romantic idiom, which has made his reputation reasonably more and more rapidly growing in the guitar world. In his tenderPer Sofia, piece that it dedicated to the composer’s little daughter, Simone uses extensive scordatura technique on the guitar tuning, bringing thus a refreshing sonority and a kind of ‘exotic’ colour pallet to the instrument. The main body of the work relies mostly on arpeggios technique caring a fluid pace, interfered by an effective slower poco piu lento section bringing the right attention to the listener. The same wisely used ‘scordatura technique’ we see later on his Lullaby for Sarah(2003) where we see Iannarelli’s individual voice settle on a suitably restful mood, full of timbres and images. The language there is lightly jazzy and the contrasting moments of climax bring in mind the struggle between cruel realism and deeper human spirituality.
The next composer to be presented in this project is the legendary Brazilian guitar performer and composer Sergio Assad, member of the famous “Assad Duo”, one of the best instrumental duos of our time. The four short in duration pieces here, are part of a longer work called Seis Brevidades. They were composed partially in Chicago and partially in Paris during 2008 and are dedicated to his brother Odair Assad. The composer additionally informs us on them: “They were not conceived with related musical material, each being very different in character and based on different sources of Latin American music. The whole set is unified as they reflect very loose and brief moments of a journey through a single day. Although they were not written on the same day they were inspired during or by specific times of the day. The first one called Chuva was the first impression of a rainy morning in the Chicago Loop. The second one, Tarde was inspired by a warm Chicago afternoon by the Navy Pier. Cantiga is a song inspired by a Parisian dusk and the last piece, Saltitante, which means leaping, was created after returning home fleeing an evening rain in Paris. The title Brevidades has a double connotation by implying the word brief, for the duration of each piece, but also by being the name of a Brazilian cupcake suggesting that these pieces should be taken as sweet little ‘cakes’.”
There is no need for a special introduction to the next piece Preludio e Toccatina, which is the third and last movement of Assad’s most popular solo guitar work Aquarelle. Although, relatively recent in existence – composed in 1988 – Aquarelle have already been established as a top ‘classic’ in the contemporary virtuosic concert repertory. The melody in Preludio is primarily based on a three-note motif (F#-D-E) which completely spreads out later in the first section of the Toccatina. Typical Brazilian rhythmic elements appear in Toccatina, where Assad shows his mastery in the elaborate use of syncopated structures. The motif of the fugato before the final coda is worked out in the second section as well.
Eli's Portrait is another significant evidence of Assad’s great ability as a composer. This is the world premiere recording of this marvellous work. Sergio gives us all the appropriate details about the piece: “Eli's Portrait is the first of a Trilogy of Portraits that I started in 2004. Created to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the great Canadian guitar teacher Eli Kassner, the piece is based upon Eli's name. Using the alphabetical system of musical notes, ABCDEFG and corresponding the remaining alphabetical letters to the first group of seven notes we get the notes EEBDA EEGED out of the name Eli Kassner. The piece is written in ternary form with a double introduction. The theme for Eli appears at the end of the first section introduced as harmonics.
This theme will be the base for the whole B section in a display of guitar virtuosity. After the recapitulation of A section the piece ends with a very touching coda.”
The next presentation has to deal with the world-renowned Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer Egberto Gismonti. The lyrical song Agua e Vinho, here transcribed for solo guitar, was originally recorded in a homonymous project released in 1972 by Gismonti in collaboration with his compatriot poet Geraldo Carneiro. Since then it has been arranged for several instrumental combinations. This version is mostly based on Daniel Wolff’s published arrangement for solo guitar.
Italian guitarist and composer Nuccio D’Angelo easily established internationally his reputation through his magnificent Due Canzoni Lidie (1984). I quote the panoramic description of the pieces as the composer elegantly annotates:
“In a imaginary place where memories of ancient ‘melos’ and archaic modal forms reside, ‘Due Canzoni Lidie’ is about an enchanted traveler who discovers the charm fascination of a primeval forgotten world.
The sonorous spaces encountered during this revisitation are enlightened and embellished by a strict respect for the ancient modality, rediscovered beyond any intellectual vision without diminishing its expressiveness.
Recurring in its original melodic form, the Lydian mode here becomes vivid with the magic of its resonance and, thanks to a wide use of harmonic and melodic sounds produced in various strings, generates precise polyphonic elements full of ambiguity and armonical polyvalence.
From a purely technical point of view, ‘Tranquillo’ is a free ‘Divertimento’ made up from several recurring thematic phrases, in a contest where the primary compulsory structural pillars are made of the Lydian gregorian modality and of the almost ever present 7/8 rhythm.
‘Agitato’ is a ‘Fantasia’ characterized and generated by a melodic-transportable cell (Eb-D-B) where the primary Lydian scale is enriched by chromaticism.”
No other musical structure in exist concentrates the spiritual and emotional power a man can imagine, such as the famous Ciacconacomposed for solo violin by J.S.Bach (1720). Johannes Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann, said about the Ciaccona: “On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”
The Ciaccona (commonly called by the French form of the word Chaconne), the concluding movement of Partita No.2 in D minor (BWV 1004), surpasses the duration of the previous four movements combined. Along with its disproportional relationship to the rest of the suite, it merits the emphasis given it by musicians and composers alike.The theme, presented in the first four measures in typical chaconne rhythm with a chord progression based on the repeated bass note pattern D-D-C♯-D-B♭ -G-A-D, begets the rest of the movement in a series of variations. The overall form is tripartite, the middle section of which is in major mode. It represents the pinnacle of the solo violin repertoire in that it covers every aspect of violin playing known during Bach's time. It is still one of the most technically and musically demanding pieces for the instrument.
This transcription – rendition of Ciaccona is my humble attempt to transfer Bach’s unique “polyphonic” idiom on guitar, as well as, share the experience to explore one of the greatest ‘gifts’ he left as a legacy to mankind.
REVIEWS FOR "Contemplation" (ClearNote-2014)
Seeing a title like Contemplation might make one concerned about having one of those regtettable discs of faux-soulful , directionless, pieces suitable perhaps for your favorite stoner but no one else. Not to worry! Mitsalas' disc does include a number of quite and reflective pieces, but beautiful ones, superbly played. And as the program evolves it adds more intense and very virtuosic works to balance the lighter ones. The opening is Simone Iannarelli's lovely Per Sofia, and the program concludes with a powerful traversal of the Bach Chaconne, making the most of its beauty and drama. In between are a number of beautiful works, including four of the Seis Breviduras by Sergio Assad and the premiere recording of the same composer's marvelous tribute, Eli's Portrait, forToronto's Eli Kassner. Mitsalas also makes the most of Nuccio D'Angelo's Due Canzoni Lidie.
Recorded sound is good, althought the guitar sounds about ten feet wide and sometimes a bit twangy. This is most likely a function of microphone placement and really does not inhibit enjoyment of the disc at all; just don't overdo the volume. Excellent notes are provided in a well-designed, tri-fold sleeve. -
Al Kunze - (Soundboard Magazine / Spring 2015)
Five years ago I had the great pleasure of reviewing Thanos Mitsalas' debut CD, which I found to be movingly personal and expressive, while also being remarkably clean and articulate. And today, Mitsalas' newest offering, entitled "Contemplation", is quite simply one of the finest recordings I've encountered in my decade of writing reviews. Like before, his playing is stunningly accurate, crisp, and full of life. From beginning to end Mitsalas marries all of the elements of great classical guitar playing: enormous and evocative tonal range, world-class command of the instrument, and a unique and defining musical voice. The repertoire he selected is interpretively and technically challenging, oftentimes peppered with temperamental dynamic nuance, and at other times marked by enormous and moving dynamic juxtapositions. Mitsalas opens with a swaying and meditative work by Sinone Iannarelli entitled 'Per Sofia'. The piece delicately transports the listener into Mitsalas' musical world, drawn not only from a traditional-classical perspective, but also heavily influenced by modern Spanish and South American styles. Next are four Breviduras composed by the legendary Brazilian guitarist and composer Sergio Assad. Had the entire disc been only these four pieces, I may have been satisfied, as they straddle a vast musical range, and require Mitsalas to explore the extremes of the instrument and his technique. The disc continues through several other lovely Spanish/South American works before it finally, and somewhat surprisingly, closes with Mitsalas' own arrangement of JS Bach's moving 'Chaconne' from the D minor Violin Partita. Why, after so many modern, Latin compositions are we suddenly thrust back to the Baroque period? From my perspective, this is very similar to what Bach had originally intended with the Chaconne. As the last movement of a violin partita, it was a disproportionally enormous and musically deep finale to an otherwise innocuous set of works for violin. Here again, just as Bach originally imagined it, we find the Chaconne placed where no one would expect it, concluding a seemingly unrelated set of works with a single massive and moving musical gesture. I can't imagine a better conclusion to this disc, as Mitsalas has delivered an absolutely impeccable recording that will definitely be turning heads, beginning to end.
Timothy Smith - November 2014 (Minor 7th)
Having recently reviewed a rather lukewarm recording of a mixed repertoire nature that also included Egberto Gismonti’s Agua e Vinho, dangerously heading beyond ubiquity, it is most pleasing to say that this recording by Thanos Mitsalas is pretty red-hot.
The neat, fold-out packaging by Clear Note (USA) is minimal but delightfully so; four printed pages of notes without a booklet one can never get back into the pocket. So, appearances help but we know they’re not everything and upon closer inspection the varied repertoire here is far from ordinary or common place, which is exactly the right thing to do if you’re an aspiring virtuoso; a term not handed out lightly on the pages of Classical Guitar Magazine.
It is always a delight to hear Simone Iannarelli’s music; while very much contemporary is always refreshingly accessible and uses the guitar’s multitude of sonorities to great effect. Sérgio Assad’s compositions cannot be seriously attempted without a formidable arsenal of technical ability and musical sensitivity. Gismonti’s piece, here played brilliantly solo, and not overdubbed, (based on an arrangement by Daniel Wolff), is how it should be played, if one must! The premiere of the Assad piece
Eli’s Portrait, is a dedication to Canadian guitar educator extraordinaire Eli Kassner and his 80th anniversary. Using the musical alphabet as an armature the piece is, as expected, fluid and spectacular with underpinning luscious harmonies that one has simply come to expect from the pen of Sérgio Assad, a gorgeous addition to the repertoire.
And carefully placed, not too far from the beginning and not too close to the end, Due Canzoni Lidie by Nuccio D’Angelo, is using a slightly more taxing musical language but not too much so; the resonances of the Lydian mode are utilised in a most beguiling and attractive way.
And indeed the Lullaby for Sarah does lull us into a sense of great satisfaction and serenity but Mitsalas has not finished yet! His transcription of the great Chaconne from the Violin Partita no2 BWV1004 is the valedictory wakeup call to pull us to our senses and make us leave the concert hall grinning from ear-to-ear, relishing in that postrecital glow, after witnessing something rather special. It really is a performance to wax lyrical about. The impressive restraint in the contemplative moments succeeds in making the explosive virtuosity of the fast passages doubly striking.
A wonderful example of how a recital CD should be presented. Highly recommended.
Tim Panting - November 2014(Classical Guitar Magazine)