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Fernando Sor - William Carter - Audio Video Club of Atlanta


08 March 2010
Audio Video Club of Atlanta
Phil Muse

From Linn Records comes a delightful recital by guitarist William Carter of Early Works by Fernando Sor. This Spanish composer (1778-1839) wrote opera, ballets and other major works in his day, but is chiefly remembered now for his graceful guitar pieces. While it isn't quite accurate to describe Sor, who has some 179 listings in Arkivmusic.com, as sadly neglected, he does tend to be taken for granted. (Carter compares Sor's modest but perfect guitar compositions to Edgar Allan Poe's Purloined Letter, which was overlooked while always in plain sight.) Part of the fault may be that Sor's art, while finely crafted, tends to be subtle, relying on slight changes in part writing, subtle shifts in position affecting rhythm and mood, and delicate sentiments in place of the bold dramatic gestures we have learned to expect of the Spanish guitar from its latter day practitioners. Another lies in the guitar of Sor's day and the manner in which he played it.

Carter goes to pains here to explain that Sor's guitar was a lighter instrument than the one we know, and that he plucked the strings with the tips of his fingers rather than fingernails, as is the common usage today. Carter taught himself to play as Sor did, helped in no small measure by the 90-page treatise the composer himself wrote to explain his guitar method, which included notions of "stronger" and "weaker" fingers and abhorred playing with the nails. He also availed himself of a fine 6-string guitar built for him by Tony Johnson (2006) after 19th century models. The result is a softer, more vocal sound that is usually available on the modern guitar, particularly noticeable in the warm coloring of the bass.

All of that serves Fernando Sor's music very well, as we hear in a program of charming Minuets, nimble Studios, i.e., Etudes (Sor was the first composer to use the term), and an imaginative setting based on Mozart's aria "O, Cara armonia" from The Magic Flute, to which Sor added a Prelude and set of variations. The theme for the latter is actually a variation on Mozart's "magic bells" aria "Das klinget so herrlich," rather than the aria itself which, as a charm to frighten away bogeymen, is too deliberately simple to have been a good basis for variations. Studio 11, my favorite of the pieces played here, has a delightful Mendelssohnian melody over rippling arpeggios. Near the end of the program Carter does a fine job with Grand Suite, Op. 14, which comes across as nothing less than an Italianate opera buffa in miniature.


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