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.”

Album Review: Serene Nights by Guitar Trek

It has to be said that I’m a very lucky bunny indeed – another fantastic classical guitar album to review (and yes it was fantastic – and just as an aside, I only tend to post up reviews if I really like a recording as I like to keep things positive on here and prefer to expend my efforts in telling you about the stuff that floats my boat and I think is worth a listen).

And this recording, Serene Nights, the sixth by Australian guitar family quartet Guitar Trek (guitar family being a bass, baritone, standard, and treble). The quartet, comprised of Timothy Kain, Minh Le Hoang, Matt Withers and Bradley Kunda, have produced what is a really refreshing recording.

Guitar Trek
Guitar Trek

And when I say refreshing I mean music that you perhaps wouldn’t ordinarily connect with the classical guitar or perhaps even have imagined it on the instrument previously. For example, we’re treated to a couple of excellent Johannes Brahms transcriptions (Intermezzo, Op.118 No. 2 (arranged by Bradley Kunda) and the Horn Trio in E Flat Major Op.40: IV – Allegro con Brio)- not a composer I’d usually connect with the guitar at all, but a great composer and both of these pieces certainly work very well with the guitar family. Brilliant stuff (and goes without saying almost expertly played by the four guitarists).

The album title Serene Nights, out now on the ABC Classics label, is a pretty accurate one, for whilst there are some lively pieces on here (including impressively lively album opener Llanura by Alfonso Montes) the abiding sensation, for me, delivered by this recording is one of poise and grace.

Llanura delivers us a “hello we’re here!”, before settling us into Kunda’s delightful arrangement of Brahms’ Intermezzo, which sounds just perfect on guitar family – delicate, graceful, lush, full of rich colour, serene.

Being a bit of a ballet fan, I have to say that my personal favourite on the recording is the an Andrew York arrangement of Waltz of the Flowers from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. A cracking arrangement, and expertly played, full of joie de vivre, fluid and nuanced. The colours and dynamics that the quartet bring out in the piece demonstrate the versatility of the instrument family, and the masterful command of the instruments that these four players have. We rarely hear Tchaikovsky on guitar and this recording goes to show it can work really well indeed.

This is followed a wonderfully sultry rendition of Albeniz’s Tango (Op. 165 , No. 2), as arranged by Timothy Kain, brining the mood back into serene territory again following the lively excitement of the Tchaikovsky. Very lullaby-esque. Beautiful arrangement, beautiful playing.

For the romantics amongst you you might want to check out the Alfonsina e el mar (Ariel Ramirez, arr. Roland Dyens) – achingly beautiful melody, supported by some big, fat rich sound. The baritone guitar really plays a great part in this piece, demonstrating how the guitar family can bring an important dimension that a straight-up guitar quartet can’t quite manage.

Then for a bit of a change of pace with latin flavour and colour (with a steel strung guitar thrown into the mix) we’re presented with Noite Serena (Bau (Rafino Almeida)) followed by a Timothy Kain arrangement of Nola for a little bit a whimsical touch. We then head into Mark Issac’s Angel and a Kain arrangement of Satie’s Je Te Veux, both of which have a lovely, easy relaxed vibe to them.

My second favourite offering on the recording are all four of the Four Pieces for Piano by Rodrigo (arr. Timothy Kain), proving yet again the piano to guitar leap works very well indeed. My particular favourite of the four is the third movement (Plegaria de la Infanta de Castilla). Once again the richness that the baritone brings to the piece is particularly noteworthy.

The recording is closed out by a Jeremy Sparks arrangement of Joplin’s Solace. A lovely, and most definitely serene, closing to a fine recording.

Serene Nights is a high-class affair – high calibre playing with some top notch “in house” arrangements of some wonderful pieces of music that sit very well on the guitar family (testament to talented, sensitive and balanced arranging skills). An expertly played and wonderfully colourful exploration.

Serene Nights is available to buy now at all good record stores, including ABC stores and the usual online outlets.

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Serene Nights – a recording worth celebrating!