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Reinventing Guitar - Scarlatti, Bach, Jose, Etc / Smaro Gregoriadou

Release Date: 07/28/2009 
Label:  Delos   Catalog #: 3398   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Yorgos KertsopoulosDomenico ScarlattiJohann Sebastian BachAntonio José,   ... 
Performer:  Smaro Gregoriadou
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 6 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

REINVENTING GUITAR Smaro Gregoriadou (gtr) DELOS 3398 (66:02)

BACH Lute Suite in g, BWV 995. D. SCARLATTI Harpsichord Sonata in E, K 380. JOSÉ Guitar Sonata. KERTSOPOULOS Some Colour’s Rhythms. Read more class="COMPOSER12">GREGORIADOU 2 Balkan Dances

The recently issued Delos CD titled “reinventing guitar!” is not so much a reinvention as a recital of cleverly employed devices used to vary the sonority of the classical guitar. While the jewel-case notes and photos push this aspect of the album (variable tuning of strings high or low, a “movable back” to vary the volume of the guitar-body, doubling and trebling the number of strings in some courses), this collection would be quite engaging without such changes in timbre. Smaro Gregoriadou is a wonderfully gifted soloist, as she sufficiently demonstrates on this album. But as the organizing principle behind this collection is fresh uses of the detuned guitar, I shall pursue a few.

To begin before the beginning: while there is little actually reinventive on this album, Gregoriadou does offer a few new possibilities for the classical guitar. In the realm of the blues: (1) bluesmen—particularly slide-guitar players—have tuned their guitars to an open tuning like a dobro for decades back to the 1920s, so the bar can be placed at right angles in order to move the home key around effortlessly; (2) still other slide guitar players have further detuned the dobro setup so that getting to minor modes is easier; (3) flamenco guitar players have been using higher tension strings for greater loudness/projection and brilliance for about as long; and (4) commercially available 12-string guitars have been used (by Pete Seeger, for example) for at least a half-century to get greater heft and/or more complex harmonic possibilities. The only thing that I’m totally unfamiliar with is ratcheting the entire back-plate of the instrument in and out to raise and lower the resonant frequency of the guitar body. I’d imagine there would be trade-offs with that (rattles, air leaks), but it is an effective, if clunky, means of extending the bass.

The lead performance on this CD is a transposition of the oft-recorded Domenico Scarlatti Harpsichord Sonata K 380. I have a recording played on piano by Vladimir Horowitz in a 1983 recital album, titled “Horowitz in Moscow.” If Horowitz is “correct” to avoid the piano’s sustain pedal and his choppy phrasing mimics how one would have to play this piece on a harpsichord, then Gregoriadou gets it spot-on. It’s not that her playing mimics Horowitz, but rather that she stays on the beat and refrains from using the guitar’s natural decay. In some arpeggio passages, there is a brilliant tinkling from the guitar that sounds more like a harpsichord than a piano. As harpsichord and guitar strings are both plucked as opposed to hammer-struck as are the piano’s, and as Gregoriadou opted for the “high tuning” of her instrument to increase its brilliance, both further suggest the sound of a harpsichord. The effect is similar to bluegrass musicians’ use of the capo, a clamp-like device that raises the pitch across all strings, and she gets it to work here. It reminds me of Earl Scruggs’s work on Jimmy Brown the Newsboy.

Similarly, for the transcription of J. S. Bach’s Lute Suite, BWV 995 (quite like one of his unaccompanied cello suites), Gregoriadou uses a “Triple-double-single course guitar/re-entrant tuning.” As set up, the instrument is meant to approximate as nearly as possible the sound of the 14-course Baroque lute of Bach’s time, with its fuller lower register. This type of instrument lends itself to expression of Bach’s concern with harmonics, and particularly to putting down a bass line that might serve as foundation for or sustain the complex structure of, say, a passacaglia. On close listening, isn’t that what Bach does in this work, what Gregoriadou is retrieving for us? Aren’t these prettily convoluted and darkly harmonic studies masquerading as a dance suite? As played, they don’t seem too danceable. The first of the gavottes, for example, has moments where it repeats the bass line, though it doesn’t do it over and over throughout (which makes it only “passacaglia like”); that raises the question, “Can a gavotte be a passacaglia at the same time?”

I can see how a jig, characteristically written in 6/8 time, could be played quickly or slowly and remain a jig. With a repetitive bass motif, it could also be a passacaglia, quick or slow. Is there a defining rhythm, or metronome count, for a gavotte? The only hint I get is in my Grove , wherein it says a gavotte is a dance in simple 4/4 time beginning on the third beat, and taken at a “moderately quick” pace. And (aye, there’s the rub) it may fall into the category of a musette, i.e., “founded on a ‘drone-bass,’ as in the third and sixth of Bach’s ‘ Suites anglaises .’” In any event, this Gavotte doesn’t sound as much like a dance tune as it does like a harmonic study, written (perhaps) for the Baroque lute, here using the specialized guitar as a substitute. In this sense, I would concede that at least one harmonic expansion of the guitar’s role is demonstrated in this album.

The rest of this collection focuses on the 20th century with pieces by Antonio José (1933), Yorges Kertsopoulos (1952), and two (1969) compositions by Smaro Gregoriadou herself. Somewhat like other 20th-century guitar works I’ve heard, they separate themselves by use of more brilliant sonority than usual (metallonylon strings), and ethnic musical figures from the Balkan area. They are interesting in their own way, but not as familiar to me as the works of Scarlatti and Bach. Heartily recommended to classical guitar fans is this exciting approach to Bach, or Scarlatti, or modern Balkan regional music.

FANFARE: Ilya Oblomov
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Works on This Recording

Some colour's rhythms by Yorgos Kertsopoulos
Performer:  Smaro Gregoriadou (Guitar)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 53 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Smaro Gregoriadou.
Liner Note Author: Smaro Gregoriadou. 
Sonata for Harpsichord in E major, K 380/L 23 by Domenico Scarlatti
Performer:  Smaro Gregoriadou (Guitar)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 18th Century 
Length: 5 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Smaro Gregoriadou.
Liner Note Author: Smaro Gregoriadou. 
Suite for Lute in G minor, BWV 995 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Smaro Gregoriadou (Guitar)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1727-1731; Leipzig, Germany 
Sonata for Guitar by Antonio José
Performer:  Smaro Gregoriadou (Guitar)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933; Spain 
Balkan Dance No. 1 on a Bulgarian folk theme by Smaro Gregoriadou
Performer:  Smaro Gregoriadou (Guitar)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 43 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Smaro Gregoriadou.
Liner Note Author: Smaro Gregoriadou. 
Balkan Dance No. 2 on a Greek epic song by Smaro Gregoriadou
Performer:  Smaro Gregoriadou (Guitar)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 6 Minutes 45 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Smaro Gregoriadou.
Liner Note Author: Smaro Gregoriadou. 

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