“Traveling Sonata” = FAURÉ: Pavane, Op. 50 (Arr. Michael Karp); RAVEL: Boléro (Arr. Jérémy Jouve); Pièce en forme de habanera (Transcribed Janet Ketchum and Peter Segal); FRANÇOIS BORNE: Fantaisie brillante sur Carmen (Arr. Jérémy Jouve); SATIE: Gnossienne No. 1 (Transcribed Roland Dyens); Gymnopédie No. 1 (Arr. Jérémy Jouve); ATANAS OURKOUZOUNOV: Sonatine hommage à Theodosii Spassov; MATHIAS DUPLESSY: Cavalcade; ROLAND DYENS: Traveling Sonata – Viviana Guzmán, flute/ Jérémy Jouve, guitar – Reference Recordings RR-128 (HDCD), 60:54 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
I suppose that any collection billing itself as an “album of European masterworks for flute and guitar” will perforce need a few transcriptions to fill the bill since the stable of original pieces for flute and guitar that could be classed as masterworks is pretty slim. In fact, I guess we can expect the term “masterwork” to be arguable as applied to some of the pieces that do make the cut. But the notes to the recording are on target when they imply that the present musical travelogue covers a range of emotions. All to the good, since the soft, dulcet tones of the two instruments playing together can often lead to a quick date with the god Morpheus.
The program leans heavily on French classics and in so doing includes both the sublime and—fortunately, only briefly—the ridiculous, in the form of guitarist Jérémy Jouve arrangement of Ravel’s Boléro. Ravel quipped that the piece was one of his most popular but that unfortunately it contained no music. However, it does contain a brazen experiment in ceaseless crescendo and shifting orchestral color that was successful enough to assure its place in the repertoire of most orchestras. Transcribing the piece for flute and guitar and whittling it down to two and a half minutes—at least twenty seconds devoted to the coda, where things do substantially change in the original, to the surprise and delight (it is hoped) of the now-jaded listener—fails to even hint at Ravel’s bold conception. Though it does make us remember that Ravel was wrong: without that sultry, Spanish-flavored, very musical melody that fuels the piece, Boléro would never have made the classical Top Twenty.
As I say, the ridiculous is quickly dispatched, luckily, so it’s on to the sublime, in the form of pieces that seem perfectly tailored to transcription for this gentle pair of instruments: Fauré’s Pavane, Ravel’s Pièce en forme de habanera, and Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1, all of which have a soothing nocturnal quality to them, Satie’s ironically named work coming close as musically possible to suggesting a state of suspended animation. This is lovely music, lovingly played by Guzmán and Jouve.
Sticking with arrangements of classic works, we have François Borne’s Fantaisie brillante sur Carmen, which guitarist Jérémy Jouve has skillfully arranged for flute and guitar. Borne’s original was written in 1900 and is one of those grand virtuosic fantasies on operatic themes that were the staple of Romantic performer-composers such as Sarasate. And just like Sarasate, Borne turned to Bizet to give virtuoso flutists one of the staples of their repertoire. As in Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, the “Gypsy Dance” brings Borne’s Fantasie to a rousing conclusion—or almost does. Instead, Borne interjects a stately version of the “March of the Toreadors” between the Dance and the razzle-dazzle coda. The performance here is as colorful and lively as can be.
If the contemporary pieces on the program aren’t masterworks, they’re certainly stimulating enough to be considered fine additions to the slim repertoire of original works for this combination of instruments. Bulgarian composer Atanas Ourkouzounov’s Sonatine (1999) is his first piece for flute and guitar, and he frankly states that he “was not a fan of the classical flute sound, and especially the combination with the guitar.” So he turned to the music of the traditional Bulgarian flute known as the kaval. Apparently, the kaval produces a more aggressive sound than the traditional flute, so in this work, the instrumental line is punctuated here and there with instances of flutter-tonguing and squally sforzandi. Also, Ourkouzounov chose to use the guitar “more like percussion (especially in the first movement) than typical guitar.” Balancing these influences, it seems, are the harmonies and rhythms of popular music, especially jazz, making for an enjoyable mix of the hot and the cool. The syncopated ostinato figure that drives the concluding Rondo Serbe recalls another composer with Serbian roots, Béla Bartók.
Jazz improvisation, including wordless vocalizations by the guitarist, also informs Traveling Sonata (2007) by Tunisian guitarist-composer Roland Dyens, one of Jérémy Jouve’s teachers at the Conservatoire National Supérier de Musique in Paris. As the name implies, this is a musical travelogue that recalls excursions to Bellizona in Italian-speaking Switzerland, the small Italian city of Mottola, and the Turkish city of Ankara. The slow movement dedicated to Mottola is just as modal and Eastern-sounding as the prancing finale dedicated to Ankara. This is easily my favorite work among the contemporary ones on the program.
French guitarist-composer Mathias Duplessy’s Cavalcade here receives its premiere recording. It clearly has a Spanish flavor, influenced “by flamenco. . .and by the music of Augustin Barrios and Egberto Gismondi.” It’s a kind of perpetual motion machine, alternating near-inaudible chords and arpeggios with big strummed chords, pinging harmonics, and other tricks of the guitarist’s trade. Jouve plays it with fearless bravura.
I could do without the Boléro travesty, but otherwise, Guzmán and Jouve offer a varied program of many pleasures, and I recommend it to just about everyone, even those who, like Atanas Ourkouzounov, aren’t special fans of flute and guitar duos.