Brief, inventive, endlessly tuneful, unbeatable listening for a lazy sunny weekend afternoon.
Three CDs, three recordings, three fine guitarists and three aspects of Italian composer Mauro Giuliani's marvellous music for guitar. Discs 2 and 3 were originally released by Italian label Rivo Alto in the early 1990s (RA 9015, 9401). There is some mystery about CD 1, however: according to Newton, the recording was made as given above in 2011, and the booklet gives the Scottish Airs and four of the Irish Airs as "first recordings". However, Rivo Alto also released a recording by the same Italian guitarist Tullia Cartoni of these very pieces in 2002, on an album entitled 'Country Dances' (RA 2201). The tracks can beRead more sampled at Cartoni's
website, and appear to be identical to those on this disc. Unfortunately, Cartoni herself does not give any dates, but nor does her site mention this Newton release.
Either way, Giuliani's easy-going if rather strait-laced cycles of National Airs that constitute a very short CD 1 were dedicated in each case to a pupil of Irish and Scottish nationality, this fact accounting for their pretty but undemanding nature. The Scottish Airs were published posthumously and there is no definite proof that they were written by Giuliani, although their style is certainly similar to that of the Irish set. Cartoni breezes through them with as much enthusiasm as the music allows.
CD 2 consists of 54 Studies selected by Elena Càsoli from Giuliani's opp.48, 50, 51, 100, 111 and 139 - many of which the composer himself actually gave other titles: Esercizii ('Exercises'), Le Papillon and Leçons, for example. The pieces are mostly very short, with sixty percent lasting under a minute, only seven exceeding two. Càsoli has clearly chosen her recital for variation of tempo and mood, although the final recorded programme was presumably determined later in the mastering studio or office. Perhaps inevitably there was a bit of a mix-up with some of the labelling: tracks 2, 38 and 46, though all different, are all listed as op.51 no.4, and there are two each of op.50 no.3, op.50 no.7 and op.111 part II no.4, the latter only two tracks apart! Nevertheless, Giuliani's miniatures are superb, despite their pedagogic intent: brief, but inventive and endlessly tuneful, unbeatable listening for a lazy sunny weekend afternoon. Càsoli plays well, although her breathing is unnecessarily audible through headphones. The only pity is, perhaps, that she did not stick at least to sequences from Giuliani's original opus groupings.
CD 3 is called 'Rossiniana', a title dear to Giuliani's heart, as he used it for six separate works, one of which is included in Massimo Scattoli's recital, now nearly a quarter of a century old. The booklet is misleading with its designation "op.119 no.2", as there is no op.119 no.1 - in fact, this is Giuliani's Rossiniana no.1, op.119. The title misleads in another way too, in that it does not do justice to the depth of Giuliani's composition, which goes beyond typical 19th century potpourri-style arrangement or pot-boiling. Rossini was a friend of Giuliani's and there is genuine respect in the his treatment of music borrowed from the former, which is always amplified by a good deal of original material. In effect, Giuliani's Rossinianas are tributes rather than profiteering. Rossiniana no.1 is particularly original, a touching, lightly humorous, surprisingly introspective work that all but disguises whatever music Giuliani has borrowed from his famous friend. Like the other Rossinianas, it has been recorded several times, most notoriously by Julian Bream in the 1970s, who in a fit for his much-re-released RCA recording replaced a central
Maestoso that he deemed boring with a section from Rossiniana no.2. The remaining works on this disc are more obviously straight borrowings - all masterfully translated for guitar by Giuliani - although the 12 Semiramide Waltzes are attractively original.
Sound quality is best, ironically, in disc 3. CD 2 is also well recorded, but rather closely miked. CD 1, newly recorded, is worst, being initially strangely muffled - although quality for some reason picks up after the first track or two and eventually ends up pretty respectable after all!
The English-German-French booklet notes give a fairly detailed account of the music, after a brief introduction to the composer. Rather shamefully, the three quality guitarists remain names on a page and nothing more - Newton evidently could not stretch their budget to a biographical note.