MUSIC OF MEMORY MAW: Music of Memory. ATKINS: Indian Summer. FRICKER: Paseo. TAYLOR: Fantasy for Guitar. NORTHCOTT: Fantasia for Guitar. BRAY: Passing Shadows. McCABE: Canto for Guitar. MAW: Little Suite for Guitar. NMC D184 CD
Music of Memory has, to some extent, become the guitar’s equivalent of Ulysses. Both are much discussed, but only the determined few can claim to have explored them in detail. Despite having been adopted by such leading lights as Fabio Zanon and Marcin Dylla, Music of Memory has kept a relatively low profile since it was premiered by Eliot Fisk in 1989.
But is it really such a taxing listen? Tipping the scales at 20’48’’, it’s longer than the Britten Nocturnal but within the average duration of Ponce’s Folia variations. Nor does Maw’s language come anywhere near the impenetrability of Royal Winter Music and the like, the clearly-defined references to the Mendelssohn theme providing a security rail for the timid.
Yet Music of Memory somehow remains a tougher nut to crack than either the Britten or the Ponce. Hatzinikolaou delivers the goods with consummate dramatic force and huge doses of technical brilliance, but there are still times when the mind wanders. At the very least, it requires utmost concentration, a courtesy to which every work on this scale is entitled.
Elsewhere, Hatzinikolaou fields recent offerings from Joseph Atkins, Matthew Taylor and Charlotte Bray, alongside three earlier compositions that either faded from the radar or were never there in the first place. Of these, Fantasia for Guitar by Bayan Northcott was premiered in 1982 but has lurked in the shadows between then and now. Fricker’s Paseo is one of several exhibits in the Bream archive that didn’t make it to Wardour Chapel and never found lasting favour with any prominent third party. This said, Hatzinikolaou’s cautious suggestion that his recording could be ‘the premiere release on disc’ is one I read with astonishment but was unable to disprove in an initial trawl of printed and online sources. Surely someone’s done it?
But the star of the show has to be John McCabe’s extended yet amiable Canto for Guitar. Although this work became associated in the 70s with Siegfried Behrend, it seems the premiere dates back to 1968, when the guitarist was William Gomez. Fond as I’ll always be of the Behrend vinyl, it must be conceded that Hatzinikolaou’s account trumps it on seamless fluidity and all-round refinement. All this, together with a valedictory return to Maw on a less expansive scale, makes for a landmark release that’s both challenging and essential.
July 2013 – Paul Fowles