William Carter - Sor Late Works - International Record Review
01 August 2011International Record Review
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
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.
Related LinksWilliam CarterLe Calme: Fernando Sor Late Works