Album Review: Odyssey by Frederic Hand – a vibrant and colourful masterwork

I have been seriously super privileged enough to be invited to review the latest recording from guitarist and composer extraordinaire, Frederic Hand. Being a huge fan of Hand’s this review was one I was really relishing even more than normal! And I wasn’t disappointed.

For those who are not familiar with Frederic Hand (you really should be!) he was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1947. He is a graduate of th e High Sch ool of Music and Art in New York City and the Mannes College of Music. He was a Fulbright Scholar to England and a student of Julian Bream. His solo performances in North and South America and Europe have received the highest critical acclaim. The New York Times wrote: “He played unerringly, with all the verve and spirit that one could ask.

Appointed the Metropolitan Opera’s guitarist and lutenist in 1984, he has performed with Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Renee Fleming and many other renowned singers .

His scores for television earned him an Emmy Award, and his arrangement and performance of the theme for the film “Kramer vs. Kramer” led to his own best selling recording for Sony, “Baroque and On the Street.”

He is the creator of Jazzantiqua, a group the New York Time described as “scintillating and brilliant,”and has also recorded for BMG and the Music Heritage Society. He has been an Affiliate Artist with the State Arts Councils of New Yorks, Arizona, California, Colorado, and Washington.

Hand’s guest appearances include the New York Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Mostly Mozart Festival, Marlboro Music Festival and the Caramoor Festival with the Orchestra of St Lukes. For his recording and performances with flutist Paul Robison, he won the Classical Recording Foundation’s Samuel Sanders Award.

So not too shabby at all really. You can say he’s done a thing or two and knows his way reasonably around a guitar!

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Nicole’s Verdict on Odyssey

Well. Where to begin?! This recording is as varied in its styles as it is stunning in its execution. The recording is primarily a set of Hand’s original compositions (with the addition of one of his boyhood favourites – more on that below), with influences from jazz, medieval music, Spain, contemporary classical, Bach and myriad other influences including his wee granddaughter.

It’s clear that Hand is as equally a talented a guitarist as he is composer (in case you were in any doubt with such a biography as that above!). There is some seriously accomplished playing on Odyssey. Hand’s tone quality is absolutely fantastic, and his range of tonal colours throughout the various pieces is actually really refreshing. It’s so good to be able to hear very clearly differing colours so vividly and clearly defined. If you’re looking for examples of tonal variation and what it could and should sound like this recording should be on the list.

His dolce tones are rich and fat and full-bodied. Check out his rendition of Gluck’s Ballet and Dance of the Blessed Spirits (the only non-original composition on the recording, and a boyhood favourite apparently). Aside from the beautifully lyrical playing I nearly wept with the sheer beauty of the tone Hand milks from his instrument in this piece. Oh my goodness, you simply have to listen to it. Divine stuff.

And it’s not all about the voluptuous, rich, fat tones either. Hand produces some fantastic ponticello highlights; in some spots you can almost sympathetically feel the hard tension in your right hand of that playing up right next to the bridge (Four Sephardic Songs: Ah, El Novio No Quere Dinero for example). I love the quality the more ponti style of playing brings to the medieval Cantiga de Santa Maria. Clear, bell-like playing supporting a drone bass, with a wonderful dancing melody that conjures up images of fair maidens dancing at some medieval courtly feast.

There are so many fantastic pieces on this recording it’s really quite difficult to pick a favourite. Prayer would have to be up there though. Beautiful. Just beautiful. Lyrical melody, lush harmonies delivered by Hand’s gorgeous playing.

Prayer was written for guitar duo and first performed by Hand with Benjamin Verdery. According to Hand it was one of those pieces that seemed to pop out fully formed, written in one sitting. The piece was deeply influenced and inspired by the music of J.S. Bach, to whom the piece is dedicated. It was apparently a performance of a Vivaldi/ Bach keyboard concerto by John Williams on a single guitar that inspired Hand to create a solo version of Prayer that we hear on this recording.

Another particular highlight for me are the Four Sephardic Songs, the first two of which (Introduction/ Una Pastora Yo Ami and Ah, El Novio No Quere Dinero) particularly struck me – Spanish-inflected, melancholic elegance in the first and slightly off-kilter, make-you-sit-up-and-listen harmonies and so well placed molto ponticello colour highlights in the second.

I listen to a lot of recordings, as anyone who follows my blog regularly will probably understand. My advice is this: If you only buy one classical guitar album this year make sure it’s this one.

Heartwarming Classical Guitar Project

The following was submitted for posting on the blog and sharing with you by Yanatha Desouvre – an interesting and heartwarming story indeed and a chance to contribute. Check it out….

“Nothing here is promised, not one day,” Lin-Manuel Miranda said during his emotional acceptance speech after winning a Tony Award for original score for his Broadway smash Hamilton. I strongly agree with Lin-Manuel Miranda. I also believe since we all only have just one life to live we must all live that life to the fullest, because the only guaranteed thing in life is death. This is a story of how a nephew/godson wants to honor the legacy of his musically gifted late uncle/godfather Daniel Coulanges who died at the young age of 28 years old. That nephew/godson is me.

The late Daniel Coulanges was a classical Haitian guitarist like his award winning world renowned, accomplished older brother Amos Coulanges. He is well known for his crossover works. Amos unites classical European music with popular Caribbean themes. Amos studied under Oscar Ghiglia in Italy and Javier Quevedo in Paris. He composed and recorded original music for films like “The Middle Passage, Biguine, Cherher la vie, The Man on the shore, and much more. Amos Coulanges album Fresques Caraibes is now available on iTunes, Google play and much more. Nito Coulanges, another musically inclined older brother of Daniel Coulanges, was the leader, lead vocalist and saxophonist of the first Haitian gospel band, Echo Mysteriuex, who toured steadily in the United States, Canada, Europe and the Caribbean. Unfortunately, Daniel Coulanges, my godfather, died at the young age of 28 of HIV/AIDS on April 30th, 1989, two years before Magic Johnson made his announcement, and never had an opportunity to share his talent with the world, until now.

During a random conversation with my uncle Amos Coulanges, he said, “Nephew, someone told me they have a recording of Daniel playing guitar at a college in Staten Island, New York.” He told me as soon as he gets it he’ll send me a copy. So the video traveled from New York to Paris to Miami, Florida. On my uncle Amos’s birthday April 26th, ten days after my birthday I received a gift I will never forget. I opened the international package and silence filled the room. When I put the DVD in my computer and with each guitar string my godfather plucked I cried and cried. My godfather was speaking directly to me with each note. I haven’t seen my godfather move in 27 years. He stayed with us in Brooklyn for a bit. Through my tears, I re-lived flashbacks of my godfather cutting my hair in the living room and with his love for speed, it was a blast when he would have picked us up from school. It appears, that the rare video recording of Daniel performing classical guitar at this college in Staten Island, might have been recorded not long before his death. My wife and I named our 2nd daughter Daniel after my godfather. She has his drive, ambition and sense of humor. I managed to extract the audio from the video performances. I plan to get the songs mastered and produced so we may share this sentimental musical and video project with the world titled, “Daniel Coulanges – World’s Finest – Live in New York” by next month, because that was how the host introduced my godfather.

“Daniel Coulanges: The World’s Finest” project was live on kickstarter however it fell short of being full funded. I now have it on Indiegogo. Pledges start as low as $1. Everyone who pledges at a certain level gets a reward from a handwritten thank you letter, to World’s Finest guitar clip, a digital and physical album, concert video, World’s Finest t-shirt, posters and much more. Once the $2700 goal is reached, I can get the album mastered and produce the album properly sharing my godfather’s talent with the world, since he died so young and never had a chance to.

Here is the link to the campaign:

Worlds Finest: Daniel Coulanges Gone Too Soon