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William Carter - Sor Late Works - International Record Review


01 August 2011
International Record Review
Robert Levett

William Carter's first disc of solo guitar music by Fernando Sor (1778-1839) contains a generous helping of the great Spanish guitarist's and composer's early works, both small- and large-scale, written either in Spain or not long after his arrival in Paris (I reviewed it in March 2010).  This companion volume is devoted to Sor's late works and again features a mixture of miniatures and large-scale compositions.

Sor's musical achievements may seem modest when placed alongside those of a Mozart or Beethoven, but he must have been an extraordinarily gifted musician nonetheless.  He was a pianist and string player; a composer of symphonies, string quartets, ballets, operas and songs; a highly praised performer and talented teacher: and as Carter writes in his booklet notes, ‘...criticising these [miniatures for solo guitar] for lack of ambition is to misunderstand their essence.  We might, with equal justice, make similar criticisms of a snowflake or a wildflower.'

Indeed.  Sor's studies might vary as much in their musical inspiration as in their degree of difficulty or their specific pedagogical purpose - improving the left-hand stretch or the thumb technique of the right, for example - but the best of them are the best of Sor.  They have the added attraction of not outstaying their welcome, which the 9'18" Le Calme, Caprise pour guitar seul, Op. 50 does - despite the attractive theme, there isn't nearly enough sense of variation and development in the subsequent paragraphs.  The ‘Theme Varie' from the wonderful Morceau de concert, Op. 54 is far more successful in this regard.

Of the smaller works, the most immediately attractive, the most delicately expressive, are the Op. 29 No. 13, the well-known - thanks mainly to Segovia's editions - Op. 35 Nos 17 and 22 and the beautiful Lecon (sic), Op. 31 No. 23, ‘Mouvement de priere religieuse'.  Carter compares this to a slow movement from a Haydn symphony, with some justification, but which always reminds me of one of Mendelssohn's Lieder ohne Worte.

As with the previous disc, Carter plays his gut-strung Tony Johnson guitar (made after nineteenth-century models) with the flesh of his fingertips, just as the majority of guitarists in Sor's time would have done (one notable exception being Sor's famous compatriot Dionisio Aguado, who preferred, as do most of today's classical guitarists, to use the fingernails).  As with the previous disc, the playing itself is exquisite, evoking more than anything the confident logic and delicate orchestrations of Turner's watercolours.  Perhaps even more mysteriously, Carter makes a virtue out of his instrument's limitations, preferring to whisper rather than shout.  Perhaps a few more younger guitarists should follow his lead.


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Le Calme: Fernando Sor Late WorksLe Calme: Fernando Sor Late Works