This is a concept album (Vol. 1) of commissions inspired by Francisco Goya’s 1799 series of 80 etchings called ‘Los Caprichos’. The twelve composers were all corralled by German guitarist Jurgen Ruck in 2003, and agreed to take part in what Ruck has fashioned as a suite.
But Ruck has made a name for himself in the world of modern music, and by that I do not mean only new and contemporary, but also rather esoteric and difficult—at least for most listeners. This is a rare case where the difficulties of this music would be partly assuaged by the ability to look at some of the etchings that inspired it, and we are given some samples in the booklet. Taken on their own, these pieces are formidably estranged caprices that seem through-composed and unanchored without the vision of the artist firmly in mind. But one may validly question the stability of music that needs the visual to make its point. Few people have ever seen the pictures in Mussorgsky’s masterpiece, but the point is still made.
Only a very few, such as the ‘Tal para qua’ (Two of a kind), a scene for voice and guitar that is quite demonstrable and clever in its juxtaposition of a dialogue between two people, make an impact apart from the nakedly visual. Composer Clemens Gadenstatter and writer Lisa Spalt have constructed a brilliant though odd piece that could well stand on its own. Likewise the second Intermezzo of Rodney Sherman, curiously effective perhaps because no particular etching served as its base.
Ruck’s guitar manages to slip and slide through all sorts of unusual techniques, and his commitment and musicality are never in question. Neither is MD&G’s superior sound, amply reverberant but also pristine in clarity and warmth. This album is for those who love very modern guitar music, or the artfully adventurous.
— Steven Ritter