Hello everyone. I've been without any real free time lately, but hopefully this weekend will allow me time to add several posts. I need the diversion and serious listening time desperately..
When the Danish composer Vagn Holmboe (1909-96) started to write guitar music, he had already been composing for half a century. Captivated by this ancient instrument, Holmboe wrote two beautiful sonatas and a number of solo pieces as well as duets for guitar and other instruments, combining his love of simple, transparent structures and organic musical development with the folklore of foreign cultures and his own Nordic roots. This disc is a guitar lover's delight (I know I'm
always delighted!) and while Vagn Holmboe's guitar music is much less familiar than most works from his extensive output, it has charm and substance, and it is every bit as enjoyable/wonderful/ and is superbly crafted.
Vagn Holmboe began writing for the guitar at the age of 70, and then continued to create works for the instrument for another 13 years. It's not clear what initially drew him to the instrument. He said little about it other than to comment that he wanted to write for it, and so he did. He first composed more formal works, the two Guitar Sonatas on this disc. Each is a suite of thematically related pieces, worked out in the organic way that he typically developed his material, and very concise, especially the second of these. Folk qualities were impossible to avoid, however, as a listen to many of the works here will demonstrate. Still, as the booklet notes point out, this is hardly Holmboe taking up "light music" at the end of his life, for there is much complexity and sophistication of invention. The "Five Intermezzi for Guitar" which followed two years later in 1981, are of a similar character, but the composer is starting to actually embrace the folk connections, using a folk-like melody of obvious Spanish flavor as a unifying theme, and adding characteristic rhythmic percussive effects and shifting meters as well.
In 1983, he went further with "Seven Folk Ballads" employing actual folk tunes from England, Israel, France, Ukraine, and his native Denmark. The original intent was to create duos for balalaika and guitar, but eventually the composer opted for the more complementary sound of the recorder. The setting of each tune, beginning with the familiar 'The Three Ravens' from England, captures the character of the folk melody with simplicity and grace. In the fantastic "Duo Concertato for Violin and Guitar" (1986) the violin adds an Eastern European quality as the two instruments engage in a witty and sometimes dramatic conversation. In the last solo work, the introspective "Parlare del più e del meno" (1988), the conversation becomes a monolog, internalized in five very short movements of great density, rhythmic freedom, and centered calm. I'm tempted to say that this is one of my 'favorite' works on the disc, however like a child talking about colors-I find that everything here is my 'favorite'. Vagn Holmboe's last chamber work for guitar, "Canto e Danza", written in 1992 when Holmboe was 83, is a set of variations on a Spanish harvest song, in three contrasting movements, followed by a lively baroque dance movement which sounds like the work of a younger man. Simply delightful.
The stylistic rather than strictly chronological structuring of the program, working from the more serious sonatas to the encore-like folk ballads, works beautifully. The performers, all outstanding Danish musicians, capture the delicate personality of each work perfectly, most especially guitarist Jesper Sivebæk.