SAFFIRE

The Australian Guitar Quartet
Granados, Koch, Pujol, Maxwell Davies, Houghton, Myers, Charlton

ABC Classics 476 701-2
TPT 1:04:06

reviewed by Neville Cohn 

Although some of the selections on this CD are rather thin musically, they are presented with care and skill – and not a little virtuosity – and the sound engineers have done a splendid job of realistically capturing the combined sound of the four classical guitars of Slava Grigoryan, Antony Field, Gareth Koch and Karin Schaupp.

Of a remarkably eclectic compilation, it is Stanley Myers’ instantly recognisable Cavatina from The Deer Hunter that fares best, its haunting, bittersweet measures beautifully presented. And Peter Maxwell Davies’ Farewell to Stromness, with its Scotch snap and minor mode that sounds rather like music for a melancholy folk dance, falls pleasantly on the ear.

Much of Pujol’s Grises y Soles is music of a very different world with its lively rhythms and darting, busy note streams, inspired by the energetic bustle of Buenos Aires and separated by dreamy, rather introverted episodes descriptive of the city’s many public parks. In Saffire’s hands, it flashes into virtuosic life.

Granados is represented by arrangements of three of the Danzas Espanolas. Villanesca (No 4) fares best; its charming measures presented with a simplicity of expression that it sounds entirely appropriate. Zambra, cast in flamenco mould, is less persuasive; semiquavers do not always flow smoothly but elsewhere there are sensitively handled rubati.

There’s a world premiere recording: Richard Charlton’s Stoneworks. As new repertoire for an ensemble of four guitars is still very small, Stoneworks will be listened to with more than usual interest by musicians hoping to expand their repertoires.
Precise ensemble runs through the presentation like a silver thread. Stones of Light is music of amiable charm if not especially memorable. Stones of Desire is described in the liner notes as music suggesting envy and desire but despite the most diligent listening on a number of occasions ­ and noting the beauty of phrase-shaping and quality of corporate tone – I could not, in all frankness, detect anything in the work reminiscent of either desire or envy. I liked Standing Stones, introduced as a shimmering stream of sound but, again, hardly evocative of the “ancient mystery” the liner notes allude to. And Stones of Power, described as dealing “with the power that stone has given man ­ the great monuments, temples, gods..hewn from marble and granite”, raised expectations of craggy grandeur that failed to materialise.

Opals, another mediation on stones but of a significantly smaller sort, made for rather more satisfying listening. Black Opal is a delight with notes clothed in glowing tone, a miniature that fleetingly reminds one of Scarborough Fair. I particularly liked Water Opal, a gently introverted piece that gives way toWhite Opal, the intricate lines of which are informed by excellent levels of ensemble and clarity. And a good deal of spirit and beguiling corporate tone is brought to Gareth Koch’s Rumba Flamenca.

Copyright 2003 Neville Cohn


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