“Bolero” = BIZET: Carmen Suite; SAINT-SAENS: Havanaise; DEBUSSY: Soirée dans Granade; Préllkude No. IX; RAVEL: Piéce en forme de Habanera; Bolero = Spanish Art Guitar Quartet – NCA multichannel SACD 60156-215 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
I’m a pushover for guitar quartets, not to mention sax quartets. This sort of aggregation cries out for hi-res multichannel recording and reproduction. The Spanish Art Guitar Quartet was founded in 1996 and its members are friends of leading guitarist and pedagogue Pepe Romero, who was/is a part of an older guitar quartet – his own Romero Family. This is the third disc from the Spanish quartet, and they specialize in not only Spanish classical music but also flamenco and zarzuela music.
The Carmen Suite has been recorded by other guitar quartets, but this I believe is the first in surround, and the Spanish quartet (interesting that it appears all four are actually German) soars thru the six movements with verve and fire. The two Debussy piano works translate beautifully to four guitars, the impressive tone colors coming across even better than on the piano. The first of the two Ravel selections is in the form of a habanera – the Cuban dance form which was a predecessor of the tango. Ravel was fascinated by this folk form just as Bizet had been in his Carmen.
One of the four guitarists – Klaus Jäckle – is responsible for the group’s transcription of Ravel’s monomaniacal Bolero. He based it primarily on Ravel’s piano version. While it lacks the variety of orchestral sounds that sustain the constant repetition of the original symphonic version, the four guitars can also in this case provide a bit more change of tone color and ornamentation than the piano. The buildup during the quarter-hour piece to its breathless conclusion is surprisingly effective with just the four guitars. Their spatial separation across the sound stage in the surround version is also a boon to the experience.
– John Sunier