David Hurwitz | Classics Today.com
Artistic Quality: 10 | Sound Quality: 10
Few combinations of solo and orchestra are as inherently dysfunctional as Guitar Concertos. No matter how small the orchestra or judiciously pared down the accompaniments, the solo always gets swamped, and the guitar’s limited dynamic range makes it impossible to hear in today’s large halls, at least without amplification (which many acoustic guitar players resist for reasons that elude me). That’s why it took recordings to give Rodrigo’s famous works (including the Concierto de Aranjuez) their lease on life, and the same probably will be true of this latest entry by Elmer Bernstein. This is a pity, because Bernstein’s new work strikes me as incontestably the finest piece ever composed for this combination, and it deserves the widest possible exposure. The music wears its Spanish influences lightly: a hint of Nights in the Gardens of Spain here, La Vida Breve there, a smidgeon of Rodrigo in the second movement. But the surging lyricism and opulent (but never dense or heavy) orchestral textures remain vintage Bernstein, and I can’t imagine a finer performance than this one by Christopher Parkening. He plays with pellucid tone and nary a trace of that annoying squeaking and sliding over the frets that disfigures so many classical guitar discs–and he has the composer himself on the podium.
Jack Marshall’s Essay for Guitar (a mini-concerto in three brief movements) passes time agreeably; it’s high on charm and well crafted, though not particularly distinctive melodically. However, Marshall’s arrangement for guitar and orchestra of Albeniz’s La Vega is very well put together and avoids the usual feeling of constriction that afflicts so many solo guitar transcriptions of piano music. At about 14 minutes, it’s a substantial piece of work and it deserves to be played more often than seems to have been the case up to this point. Only 48 minutes long, this disc isn’t as well filled as it could have been; but finding couplings for guitar concertos, especially new ones by non-Spaniards, can’t be easy. As it stands, Bernstein’s masterpiece really deserves the widest currency. It’s a marvel and a joy to see this fine composer of film scores getting a rare hearing for his concert music.
Elmer Bernstein is, without a doubt, a legend in the film music world. But he has also written for the concert world, beginning with his “Woodstock Fair” in 1946, all the way through his latest, “Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra” in 1999. Now the recording of that concerto has been released, and it features an exceptional performance by famed guitarist Christopher Parkening, backed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Bernstein’s “Concerto for Guitar & Orchestra – For Two Christophers” is named as such because it was not only written for Parkening, but also for the late orchestrator Christopher Palmer. Broken into three parts, the first part “Guitar” is primarily upbeat, and is has energetic bouts, intermingled with sweeping string work, as well as some brass fanfare touches, reminiscent of Bernstein’s film work. The second part, “Reflections”, is exactly that – reflective. It’s a softer, more introspective work that highlights the guitar and allows for plenty of emotions. I think it was my favorite movement in the concerto. The third and final part is “Celebration” which is another energetic piece in rondo form. It’s a great way to end a highly enjoyable composition. Also included on the album is a new recording of Isaac Albéniz’s “La Vega (from The Alhambra)”. Originally written in 1897 as a piano solo, composer Jack Marshall arranged the piece for an orchestra and guitar. Having been to the Alhambra (years ago), I’m struck by how the music actually evoked memories of the location, with it’s Moorish architecture and vistas. Running 14 minutes long, the piece is strong, emotional, and splendidly performed. The final composition on the album is Jack Marshall’s original composition “Essay for Guitar”, as recorded back in 1967 by Christopher Parkening (at age 19). This is a great addition to the album as it allows one to compare Parkening’s abilities from today and 30 years ago. Astonishingly enough, there isn’t much difference – Parkening’s ability back then was just as strong as it seems to be today. Studio musicians who donated their time performed the music, and their skill is such that it helps enhance Parkening’s already impressive performance. Bernstein hasn’t been writing much lately in the way of film scores, but he has been increasing the amount of concert writing. If “Concerto for Guitar” is any indication, I think his energy is going to be well spent. With a running time of approximately 48 minutes, this album is definitely worth a listen.