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CD Review

Naxos 8.572445
  • Mauro Giuliani:
  • Gran variazioni concertanti, Op. 35
  • Tre Polonesi concertanti, Op. 137
  • Variazioni concertanti, Op. 130
  • Gioachino Rossini (arr. Giuliani):
  • Overture "La Cenerentola"
  • Overture "Il Barbiere Di Sivigia"
  • Overture "La Gazza Ladra"
  • Overture "L'assedio di Corinto"
Jeffrey McFadden & Michael Kolk, guitars
Naxos 8.572445

To Bret Hoag and Shea Socrates.

This is a lovely program that pays tribute to two of the greatest composers in their chosen form. A contemporary of Beethoven who toured Europe and was highly regarded, Giuliani never achieved the lasting fame of his friend Rossini. Yet, the two men – with help from Paganini – worked to craft these utterly enjoyable arrangements of four great opera overtures. Additionally, Giuliani composed many solo works that demonstrate both his own virtuosity and the full range of the guitar. On this beautifully recorded disc, Jeffrey McFadden and Michael Kolk embark on what promises to be a wholly engaging series devoted to his works.

What I think I appreciate most about the overture arrangements is that they never sound like a mere stunt. Rossini was famously attuned to small details, and Paganini was no slouch at improvising and arranging. Between the three musical minds came these completely convincing renditions of these popular chestnuts. If you know the originals, doubtless you'll miss the thrill of the orchestra, but should you stumble upon these out of context, chances are you'll be more impressed than not. Sure, there are things that dynamically and expressively, the guitar is incapable of. To compensate, there's a keen sense of rhythm and songful grace that more driven orchestral performances miss. And credit the performers for also recognizing the spirit of these arrangements and never trying to go crazy. Indeed, for all the energy and fun in their playing, these are somewhat mellow performances.

The variation sets and polonaises are a perfect complement to the bravado of the overtures. While they aren't works that cause you to leave the hall humming unforgettable tunes (that was Rossini's job, after all), this near half-hour of original music always falls lightly on the ear. McFadden and Kolk offer nuanced and technically accomplished playing here as well, and everyone seems to be having a good time. I think this whole series will be more of a specialist item than anything else, Naxos continues to showcase the guitar in innovative ways. There isn't much good competition, either, so if the project appeals, go for it!

Copyright © 2017, Brian Wigman