RSNO - Beaser: Guitar Concerto - MusicWeb International

The American composer Robert Beaser is from a non-musical family. He studied with Jacob Druckman at Yale. His conducting teachers included William Steinberg but his honour roll of professors numbers Takemitsu, Franchetti, Petrassi and Earle Brown in its strength. For this disc Beaser provides his own factual background. The booklet also includes essays by John Corigliano, Serebrier and Fisk. The English-only documentation for this disc is superb. It's full, typographically pleasing and legible. Beaser's discography includes Mountain Songs - also involving Fisk - and a Piano Concerto issued by Phoenix from an Argo original.

The Guitar Concerto is one of quite a few works Beaser has written for Fisk, a noted pupil of Andrés Segovia. This one has movements as follows: Chains and Hammers, Tombeau and Phrygian Pick. The first of these is most luminously orchestrated. It's an artful piece of work leaving aural space around the guitar - an instrument too easily swamped. It's a most attractive work in an open and welcoming style which combines delicacy, half-light and a dazzle of joyous detail. The last time I heard a guitar concerto this welcoming it was the glorious concerto for acoustic guitar, electric guitar and orchestra from Birmingham-based British composer Andrew Downes. Fisk brings gentle illumination in the sentimental Tombeau which owes something to Barber at his most accessible. The last movement, Phrygian Pick, is quietly driven. Here is another composer who is confident and happy to inhabit and invent within the frame of tonal music. He does this with tension and allure. Only the last couple of minutes felt contrived as if Beaser had to find a dynamic way of ending.

Then come three other works. Notes on a Southern Sky is the oldest here. I take Beaser's note on trust in reporting that it is inspired by the music of Venezuelan composer Antonio Lauro and guitarist Alirio Díaz. The composer tells us that this is a revised version - tightened and shortened. It's a work of subtle delicacy and, without being in any way a trial, is more challenging than the Concerto. A tempered, crepuscular atmosphere suffuses every bar.

Evening Prayer finds its impetus in Kodály's choral folk piece, Esti Dal. It owes its existence to a commission from an orchestra in which Beaser played as a young musician. Its salty, rippling and surging ways meld a guileless North American folk idiom with that of Eastern Middle Europe. It has many moments that link with the grand outdoors tradition exemplified by Copland's works of the 1940s. While I had some misgivings about the way the Concerto ended this work closes most naturally with a confident and contented valour.

Ground O, as its title suggests, is bound up in the composer's reaction to 9/11. This small piece is based on a movement from an earlier chamber work. Its fractal glistening and dignified glow achieve a telling effect. It's all delivered in an unhurried breath which gives the sense of a rising gradient. The music is epic in its substance but most skilfully achieved in brevity. This is most impressive and, as with the other works, its countenance never slips into anything approaching the mundane.

The RSNO and Serebrier know each other very well as may be expected from their Glazunov cycle. The audio engineering presents the music with vigour and clarity.

Beaser has been associated with Linn before. He wrote the liner notes for Linn's CD of Adler's orchestral music.

MusicWeb International
14 August 2017