Fanfare Magazine: Brouwer Concerti 3 & 4

» 02 July 2008 » In Reviews »

BROUWER: Concertos for Guitar and Orchestra: No. 3 (“Concerto Elegiaco”); No. 4 (Concerto de Toronto”). Ricardo Cobo, guitar: Richard Kapp conducting the Pro Musica Kiev. ESSAY CD 1040 [DDD];56:29. Produced by Adam Abeshouse. (Distributed by Koch International)

This release demonstrates great courage on the parts of the guitarist and the conductor. Both concertos have been previously recorded-No. 3 by its dedicatee, Julian Bream (Currently available on BMG 09026-61605) [DDD] Nos. 3 and 4 by L. de Angelis (Quadrivium SCA 020). In both cases the composer conducts. I have been unable to locate a copy of the Quadrivium release. In Bream’s performance of No. 3, Brouwer acquits himself as a competent and generally authoritative podium maestro at the helm of a pickup band dubbed the RCA Victor Chamber Orchestra, and the whole enterprise has been nicely recorded by the veteran producer James Burnett (with engineering by Bob Auger).

Both Kapp and his producer, Adam Abeshouse, and Brouwer/Burnett, achieve acceptable balance between guitar and orchestra. Burnett does more cardioid pinpointing of various orchestral instruments but the soloist is thin, treble heavy, and distant. Abeshouse opts for a more blended orchestral sound in keeping with Kapp’s general approach to recording, but teases out the solo line more effectively, capturing more of the guitars subtle colors along the way. In neither case is any detail fully lost to the ear. Burnett’s recording is marginally brighter and airier (though less timbrally rich): Abeshouse’s is marginally more homogenized and occasionally betrays a slight standing wave in the upper parts of the bass register-a small price to pay for its generally richer texture.

The crucial differences have to do with the rendering of the solo part and with the overall organization of the orchestration by the two conductors. The state of Bream’s playing on his 1987 recording is less than ideal. Although Bream realizes the effective beauties of the 1986 “Concierto Elegíaco”, rapid passages are often sloppy, blurred and rhythmically less than precise (e.g., the ascending passages commencing at track 7, 4:24 on the Bream disk; track 1. 4:20 on Cobo’s). Ricardo Cobo sails through those and similar moments with great aplomb and knife edged precision, and is particularly compelling in his realization of the quasi improvisatory-sounding music of the brief second movement. Bream is playing notes, Cobo makes a music unfold before the ear. As conductor, Brouwer is episodic, occasionally bringing isolated moments to great heights, but failing to project overall architecture of any given moment. The biggest difference between Brouwer and Kapp is the realization of the orchestra’s motoric ostinato passages. Under Brouwer they are limp and degenerate into tendentiousness, whereas Kapp imbues them (and those of the “Corcerto de Toronto”) with fine rhythmic springiness that does much to enliven the texture.

The 1987 “Concerto de Toronto” was dedicated to John Williams. Whereas the “Concerto elegacio” is introspective, scoring its emotional points through deft manipulations of harmony, the “Concerto de Toronto” is brashly extroverted, making greater technical demands on the soloist, and deploying the orchestra in a more complex and variegated manner. Its core is found in the thirteen minute theme and variations movement. The Coplanesque subject is rife with melodic and harmonic possibilities, and Brouwer’s imaginative exploitation of it constitutes a veritable compositional tour de force. The finale, after a linking cadenza, is a bracing romp full of perilous passages for the soloist: tricky metrical changes for the conductor, and numerous moments for the orchestra to shine. Like the “Concerto Elegíaco”, the “Concerto de Toronto” employs Franckian cyclical structure. The reprise of the variations theme is particularly telling-and made all the more so when the listener realizes that the whole of the finale is itself yet another huge variation on that same Coplanesque theme.

Both concertos are jewels of the twentieth-century guitar concerto literature, Brouwer is typically unrelenting in his flow of inventions and resourceful in his handling of all musical elements. His fluency is compelling, but often hides the fact that he is, all expressive nuances and surface glitter aside, an extremely logical and structurally sound composer. Cobo and Kapp give both sides of his personality, and what emerges is a recording that will not be bettered for some time to come. The recording cited from the Bream BMG series also includes readings of Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” and Lennox Berkeley’s guitar Concerto. op 88-factors that undoubtedly will be of import to some collectors. For those in quest of Brouwer alone and presented in the best possible light, this Essay offering cannot be too highly recommend.

I hope Cobo/Kapp/Pro Musica Kiev will have a go at the remaining Brouwer concertos

-William Zagorsky

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