Reviews

 

Swedish guitarist Georg Gulyás attracted my attention in my reviews of his previous excellent recordings for the Proprius label (e.g. Albeniz, Ponce, Tarrega - Georg Gulyás and Georg Gulyás plays Bach). Now a guitarist of worldwide demand, he is currently Senior Lecturer at Karstad University. He returns to Proprius with a disc of Benjamin Britten's works for voice and guitar, a part of Britten's output that is unknown to many of his fans.

Britten had a remarkable "feel" for instruments. Having decided to take a new one into his compositional range, he entered an intense period of study of what the possibilities of the subject were, and prepared in detail to use the instrument in new pieces. He couldn't play the guitar himself, but in his 20 minute solo 'Nocturnal' on this disc, its dedicatee and première player Julian Bream was astonished to find only one unplayable chord in the MS. It was Bream who steered Britten away from the lute, which was connected with Dowland (one of Britten's greater provider of inspiration), by suggesting a guitar accompaniment for his 'Songs for the Chinese' Op. 58 (1957). Next, Volume 6 for Britten's series of English Folksongs (published 1961) arrived, for high voice (Peter Pears) with guitar accompaniment. Then Bream asked Britten for a solo piece, which resulted in 'Nocturnal' (1963). This formidable solo has now become regarded world-wide as one of the most influential of twentieth century pieces for the classical guitar.

In Britten's time, performances of the two sets of songs with guitar accompaniment would have been with his partner Peter Pears. Although many recordings of similar programmes also use a tenor, the scores are marked with "high voice". Thus Gulyás has elected to partner with a mezzo-soprano. German mezzo Ivonne Fuchs was trained in the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. She won a Birgit Nilsson scholarship and now is much in demand for operatic rôles. Her English pronunciation is very good and despite a reverberant venue one can easily hear the texts which she sings (all of which are printed in English in the disc's booklet).

Britten's interest in Chinese poetry mirrors that of Mahler - evident in the latter's Das Lied von der Erde. Six poems chosen by Britten were translated into English by Arthur Waley. They are philosophical subjects; statements about life, especially the transience of youth and beauty. Fuchs beautifully captures their intents with a variety of tone colours to which Gulyás responds by underpinning with harmonic chords, giving empathetic and subtle support.

The Sixth Volume of English Folksongs (Published 1961) comprises six songs from various English Counties. They all have strong and memorable melodies and deal with love, satire, morals and social frustration. Britten, now more experienced with the guitar, provides richer comments to Fuch's vivid characterisations, and together they bring the essence of English folksong to their amusing and informed performance. Almost as a sudden thought, the very popular "Foggy, Foggy Dew" from Arrangements Vol. 3 has been added, but with the piano part transcribed for guitar, most effective.

The solo guitar piece which I have already mentioned grew from John Dowland's song "Come, Heavy Sleep", a piece of heart-stopping emotional depth, ending with the line:
"O come, sweet Sleep, or I die for ever;
Come ere my last sleep comes, or come never".
This song is delivered by Gulyás and Fuchs with all the respect and understanding it deserves, before the amazing piece for solo guitar which inspired Britten to write 'Nocturnal' ends the recording.

In 'Nocturnal After John Downland' Op. 70, there are 9 sections dealing with the themes of night, death, sleep and dreams. It is an inverted set of variations, with the theme (from Dowland's Come Heavy Sleep) at the end. The themes are: Musingly, Very Agitated, Restless, Uneasy, March-like, Dreaming, Gently Rocking, Passacaglia, Slow and Quiet. All these are depicted vividly with just about every technique available on the guitar - scale and arpeggio sequences, complex five-part chords, pizzicato and tremolando. I was enthralled by Gulyás' wonderful technique, his understanding of the dramatic progress of the sections and his convincing portraiture overall of Dowland's desperate desire for sleep - or Death.

The venue for this recording was the minimalist Petrus Church (1962), Danderyd, just north of Stockholm, which has a lively reverberance in acoustics that have drawn many recording teams, including BIS as well as Proprius. In the 5.0 multichannel there is plenty of sound from the back of the church in the rear channels, and the rich church sound is quite enfolding for the song cycles, where the singer and guitarist are somewhat distant, but not enough to blur Fuchs' articulation. For the solo, the guitar is brought well forward with a wonderfully detailed sound picture of the instrument, all the tonal and textural changes in the virtuoso playing clearly captured. Even the sound of skin on string is portrayed convincingly. Stereo is very good but the church background is less prominent.

Britten is much saluted here by Georg Gulyás and Ivonne Fuchs, and their varied programme provides much interest and entertainment. Highly recommended.

John Miller, HRAudio.net, June 2016
Performance: 5/5

"This release is every bit as fine as volume 1" As before, he plays these pieces with amazing clarity, and his articulation brings out voices that other guitarists often gloss over.

"poised, refined and expressive" " warm tone" "superb"

SA-CD.net, 3 June 2011

 

Georg Gulyás is making a well-deserved international reputation as a
solo guitarist. Having greatly enjoyed his previous Spanish recital for
Proprius (Albeniz, Ponce, Tarrega - Georg Gulyas), I was looking
forward to see what he would make of JS Bach.

In the accompanying booklet, Gulyás expresses his admiration for the
great Bach, and outlines the music he has chosen to play. Bach, of
course, was a the great arch-Transcriber himself, so Gulyás plunged in
and made his own transcription of the great Chaconne from the solo
Violin Partita BWV 1004. This trancendental piece has already been
re-vamped for many other instruments, so jealous are the ranks of
non-violinists. In about a quarter of an hour it manages to compress
what seems to be a lifetime's experience and emotion within its formal
Theme and Variations structure.

The Chaconne makes a spell-binding opening to the recital. Gulyás sits
at the ideal distance before us in the silent space of Lycke Church, NW
of Karlstad. He uses a responsive, rich-toned and very versatile guitar
made by Per Hallgren. Its sound is reproduced in demonstration-quality
5.0 multichannel by Producer and Engineer Torbjörn Samuelsson. There
are few whistles and squeaks in Gulyás' playing, and like his high
notes they expand into the church acoustic, which responds immediately,
giving our ears and brain clues about the size and nature of the
recording space. One can hear the beautiful resonance of the guitar for
several seconds after the last note dies. This is what high-resolution
(even PCM!) sound is all about.

Gulyás plays this amazing piece from a still, calm centre of great
strength. It seems to flow seamlessly from variation to variation,
richly expressive and certainly comes from the heart. He has great
rhythmic control which is finely nuanced, and the virtuoso passages run
fluidly from his fingers. I particularly enjoyed his great dynamic
range, with very soft passages retaining depth of tone, and fortissimos
which never seemed forced.

The other two pieces on the disc are from Bach's so-called 'Lute
Suites', although in the absence of autographs it is really unknown
what instrument they were written for. It used to be thought that they
were written for Sylvius Leopold Weiss, a famous lutenist who visited
Bach, but there is no proof of this. Gulyás points out that the pieces
are uncomfortable to play on the lute, and more likely were written for
a hybrid keyboard instrument which sounded like a lute - the
Lautenclavicymbal, which we know Bach possessed and enjoyed playing.
Again Gulyás has made his own transcriptions of the Suite in E minor
BWV 996 and also the Suite in C minor BWV 997, which he has transposed
down to B minor as he feels this better suits the guitar's sonority.
His playing of these suites possesses the qualities I have mentioned
above. Many of the dance movements are made to carry some of Bach's
most earnest and pensive stream-of-conciousness utterences, yet others
are lighter and more strictly rhythmic. Gulyás is fully alive to their
whims, and gives them the eloquence they demand, finishing with a
joyful running-figure Double.

This is a disc to play often: well-prepared and played, with
demonstration quality sound. Both Bach lovers and guitar aficionados
should try to hear it.

John Miller and SA-CD.net

 

This beautifully recorded and compellingly played concert brings the
sunshine of Spain into one's listening room and is strongly
recommended. Keep an eye (and both ears) on Gulyás; I hope that he and
Proprius will bring us many more guitar discs.

John Miller and SA-CD.net

 

Yet the most incredible of all has to be Georg Gulyás' guitar recital
[Proprius PRSACD 2030]. Don't think for a minute that it's just one
guitarist, hence who needs five loudspeakers. The holographic presence
of the guitar and the guitarist is so real that I could sit anywhere
and both were still there in the same spot. As for skeptics, nothing is
more convincing.

David Kan, Audioreviews

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contact Georg Gulyás: georg@gulyas.se