Santiago de Murcia - William Carter - International Record Review

‘The real giant of the Spanish guitar, however, was Santiago de Murcia', claims William Carter in his highly informative and engagingly written booklet notes accompanying this release. However, I'm being a little disingenuous by quoting him out of context - he's actually comparing Murcia (1682 -1732) with the composer's two illustrious predecessors and fellow Spaniards: Francisco Guerau (one of Murcia's teachers), whose beautiful but somewhat archaic style owes more to the music of Renaissance vihuelists than to anything else, and Gaspar Sanz, whom Carter describes as ‘more of an inspired collector of folk music than a composer'.  Anyway, before I become more of an inspired collector of booklet quotations than a reviewer, let's get on with it. This second solo outing by Carter is every bit as good as his first, which featured the music of the Italian Baroque guitarist/composer Francesco Corbetta (reviewed in December 2004).

Did I say ‘solo'? Well, it's almost. Susanne Heinrich lends support to her fellow Palladian Ensemble member by plucking a discreet accompaniment on the bass viol from time to time. This gives depth and body to the five-course Baroque guitar's delicate textures while focusing the ears so much more completely on those same textures when the accompaniment drops away, as in the second Canarios on the disc. It's very effective in Murcia's transcription of Corelli's Preludio and Giga from one of the latter composer's Op. 5 Violin Sonatas, but no less so as a reference point for Carter's own Canarios or as a plucked drone in the hypnotic Cumbees.

So far I've said nothing about Carter's playing: I've been saving the best for last. There were three distinct methods of playing the Baroque guitar - to use the Spanish terminology, by rasgueado (strumming), punteado (plucking) or by a combination of the two, the so-called mixed style which all the most sophisticated guitar music of the Baroque exhibited, including, of course, Murcia's. Carter's peculiar genius, no doubt borne of long experience playing continuo with such bands as the Academy of Ancient Music and The English Concert, as well as chamber music with the Palladians, is to reveal the mixed style as a real ‘universe in a grain of sand'. His mastery of dynamic shading and tonal variation is almost orchestral in outlook, and yet how modest the means! This is perhaps best appreciated in the three Passacalles on the disc, which Carter imbues with a Bach chaconne-like intensity, despite the modest premise of each; but it's also obvious in the rather melancholy Marionas and the gentle concluding Gaitas. Whether the courses are slapped and strummed or lightly brushed; whether they laugh with peals of jangling campanelas or cry with subtly attenuated appoggiaturas, they always seem to be obeying some kind of overarching emotional logic. Another kind of mixed style, if you like, where both the rational and the irrational exist side by side.

Lovers of the Baroque guitar will know just what I'm talking about, and will want to rush out to obtain this disc without delay.

01 June 2007