Guitar Men

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Works for Two Guitars by Diabelli, Giuliani, Carulli

Pepe & Celedeonio Romero, guitars

Philips 9500 352

Say classical guitar to anyone and, in order of appearance, you’ll come up with Andres Segovia, John Williams, Julian Bream, Pepe Romero and some nameless Renaissance madrigals. As far as individual pieces go, Rodrigo’s Guitar Concert (it’s been recorded a lot) has always been a popular go-to, trailed by solo pieces by Villa-Lobos and some Bach transcriptions. What’s less well known are the guitar works by Haydn (a delightful trio), Paganini, von Weber, Elliott Carter, Steve Reich (electric guitars, in this instance) and even Rorem and Takemitsu, among a crowd of others.

On this Philips release, the focus is on works for 2 guitars instead of one, played by the great guitarists Pepe and Celedonio Romero. The album presents duos by Diabelli, Giuliani and Carulli (which sounds like a tailors’ you might stumble on in Sicily). Giuliani’s op. 130 Variations for Two Guitars is a pleasant traversal, while Anton Diabelli’s op. 63 Serenade is as much of a charmer. But it’s the Carulli that stands really stands out.

Not a lot is known about Carulli, except that he moved from Italy to Vienna, and on to Paris in 1808, where he came out with a guitar method that’s still hugely influential. His Serenade, op. 96, begins with an overture that’s spectacularly operatic, in 6/8 time, and continues on in a polished dialog between the two guitars. An impassioned Allegro segues into a Larghetto, and the whole closes with a dance-like movement that sounds a little like a waltz. The two Romeros’ playing is nothing short of awesome: they’re so synched as to be practically indistinguishable from each other.

The Sheffield Sound

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Variations on another’s themes are like great chats between composers who’ve usually never met. The form has provided some of the most spectacular works. There’s the canonical Goldberg Variations, Beethoven’s Diabellis, Rachmaninov’s rousing Paganini Variations, to name three of the more popular.

Lincoln Mayorga here plays another mainstay of the genre, Johannes Brahms’s oft-recorded Variations on a Theme of Handel, along with the original, and a Chopin Mazurka. About as notable as the piece itself is the Sheffield Lab label, which Moyorga co-founded. An audiophile’s wet dream, Sheffield mixes the gorgeous timbre of early 78s without the scratchiness with cutting-edge digital equipment. Since it began (this is their fourth album), it’s become the standard for vinyl sound-quality. The effect, at least here, is a little like curling up in the belly of the piano as the pianist plays.

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