Album Review: Fantasías by Rupert Boyd – elegance and grace from a modern master

Well, I’ve been at it again – lucky enough to have the latest recording from a top classical guitar talent to feature and review for you.

And this particular recording comes from New York-based Australian guitarist (and one half of the Australian Guitar Duo), Rupert Boyd. I was particularly relishing this review as Rupert is one of my favourite artists currently active (I really love his version of J.S. Bach’s Prelude from the Lute Suite in A Minor BWV 997 that’s on YouTube for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJPys_Yh3P4) and I wasn’t disappointed….. But first a little background for you.

FANTASÍAS
CD Cover Design

Fantasías – a varied collection of works for solo classical guitar

On April 28th 2016, Little Mystery Records released Rupert Boyd’s eagerly awaited second solo CD Fantasías (LMR-103).

Described by the Washington Post as “truly evocative”, and by Classical Guitar Magazine as “a player who deserves to be heard”, Rupert Boyd is recognized as one of the most talented guitarists of his generation.

Recorded by renowned producer John Taylor in a centuries-old church just outside of London in November 2015, Fantasías contains a varied collection of works for solo classical guitar, including four fantasias that span from Elizabethan England to modern-day Hawaii. The album also includes works by the Australian composer Phillip Houghton, a tango by the Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla, a work by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, and four traditional Celtic songs arranged for guitar by David Russell.

Fantasías is Rupert Boyd’s second solo album, and follows from his debut recording Valses Poéticos (2008), which received the following review in Soundboard, the quarterly publication of Guitar Foun dation of America: “Boyd’s playing is beautifully refined, with gorgeous tone… musically and technically flawless… [the Granados is] one of the best recorded performances of this work on guitar.” Rupert Boyd has also recorded an album Songs from the Forest, with his ensemble the Australian Guitar Duo, which was described as “wonderfully entertaining” by Classical Guitar Magazine, and “very impressive” by Soundboard.

Nicole’s Verdict on Fantasías?

There is a overarching sense of real elegance and grace in Boyd’s playing across the various  pieces on the recording from Spanish classics of the repertoire to melancholic Celtic traditional tunes to Elizabethan English across to more modern South American and Australian pieces and beyond.

To say that Boyd is a versatile player would be an understatement. This recording is a testament to not only to that versatility but to his fantastic sense of musicality, style and grace across various styles.

Within that the whole recording has a sense of being grounded. And when I say grounded I don’t mean heavy. In Boyd’s rendition of Downland’s Fantasie (one of the recording’s highlights for me), for example, there is just an exquisite lightness, and a fantastic sonorous, bell-like tone in the playing. The lightness achieved is “grounded” by a real sense of surety in the playing. It’s a sense of musical surety that true mastery of an instrument brings.

The big highlight on this recording for me is de Falla’s The Miller’s Dance (arr. Tim Kain). As If you’re a classical guitar fan I’m sure you’re aware that this piece is already on a thousand recordings. This particular offering, however, is delivered with an assured gentleness and elegance and not the oft-times overblown machismo and bravado that can accompany such a piece. This version genuinely put this piece in a new light for me, and that’s not something that happens very often. Rupert also has an elegance of tone to match the elegance of approach – simply wonderful, rounded and full.

Also well worth a mention are the beautiful renditions of four Celtic traditional tunes (arranged by David Russell). As someone who used to play in a folk group back in the day these kinds of pieces have a soft spot in my heart anyway, but in the wrong hands they can have the ability to sound twee and trite. Not so the case here with Rupert Boyd’s wonderful playing, which again is graceful and the right touch of melancholia.

In a nutshell: A wonderful tour around the modern (and not so modern!) guitar repertoire played by a modern master with sureity of style, full of elegance, and assured gentleness.

Who is Rupert Boyd?

 

Rupert holds degrees from the Australian National University School of Music, the Manhattan School of Music and Yale University School of Music. And his performing career has taken him across four continents, from New York’s Carnegie Hall, to festivals in Europe, China, India, Nepal, the Philippines and Australia.

In addition to winning the Andrés Segovia award from the Manhattan School of Music, Rupert Boyd was a winner of the Lillian Fuchs Chamber Music Competition and the Eisenberg-Fried Concerto Competition.

What does Rupert himself have to say about Fantasías?

Speaking about Fantasías, Rupert Boyd says “I am very excited to share this new CD, which is the first solo album that I’ve recorded in eight years. The album is a collection of some of my favourite compositions for solo guitar, including classic works from the guitar canon, and a number of lesser known, but wonderful gems. It was recorded in a beautiful church and I couldn’t be happier with the clarity of the recording, which perfectly captures the church’s wonderful acoustics. In music, the title fantasia was given to a piece of no fixed form, and which was intended to be an exploration through the imagination of the composer. I like to think that this album as a whole, in just over an hour, can transport the listener on a journey that traverses over four hundred years and across four continents. I hope that all audiences, from the connoisseur of classical music, to anyone who enjoys music or the guitar can find something they love.”

Benefits of My Break from Playing Guitar

So, as I outlined in my previous post, I’ve recently had a rather generous slab of time out recently. A lengthy holiday (the longest I’ve ever had I think, and longest likely for some time) and time out from my job, playing guitar, the general day-to-day of everyday life. Five weeks (preceeded by a week or two’s preparation prior which led to no playing) of rest, relaxation and general unguided mulling.

From the point of view of guitar playing, a younger version of myself from a number of years ago would have been horrified at the thought of not playing the guitar for five or six weeks in a row. The concept would have been unfathomable.

However, in my increasing wisdom of middle(ish) age it doesn’t and hasn’t worried me in the slightest. In fact, I found the break quite refreshing and reinvigorating.

How so?

Well, the time away from the minutiae of grappling with knotty technical issues in pieces has allowed perspective, and removed the temptation to over-think and over-practice those elements (and possibly undoing good work done). The time away has actually better enabled me to tackle some of those technical issues, and some have even felt to become much easier. Don’t know what I was making all the fuss about.

The break has enabled me to refocus on what I want to do with my playing next in terms of what I’m currently learning and want to learn, projects such as my duo project with the wonderful Rick Alexander and recording, and within the latter what I want to record.

It’s also given me a new boost of energy and enthusiasm for relearning older parts of my repertoire, finishing off learning pieces or suites that are part learnt and for beginning to grapple new work. Alongside the mental refreshment, I find that I’m physically more in tune again with what my body is doing, what I’m actively doing with it and knowing when to ease back or take a rest.

I’m not advocating that that size of break from playing should be done on a frequent basis (after all you’re not really playing then are you?!). Nor that it has to be as long a break as a month or more. But once a year a complete and total physical and mental break for a period of time, say a week or two, I find does wonders for my playing.