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JULY 2017: Christoph Denoth | Homages | Signum SIGCD404

JULY 2017: Christoph Denoth | Homages | Signum SIGCD404

Christoph Denoth is one of the most talented guitarists of his generation. He has developed an enviable reputation as a soloist as well as a vocal accompanist and can also turn his hand to conducting and contemporary repertoire. His CD catalogue reflects his two primary interests, for which he has garnered wide critical appreciation. You may already have heard about his new CD, Nocturnos de Andalucía, also released on Signum, covering works for guitar and orchestra by Rodrigo, Palomo and Malats, but his previous release, Homages, is well worth investigating and is the subject of this review. Whilst Denoth does not exclusively play Iberican music, he has long demonstrated an acuity for this repertoire with a keen ear for its subtle rhythms and a strong tonal colour. Whilst his interpretations do not lack spontaneity, they are always very well considered, balancing his great technical flair with strongly expressive readings.

Homages, subtitled ‘a musical dedication’ offers a fascinating glimpse into the singular Iberican interest in musical homages, selecting pieces which demonstrate a desire for genuine expression rather than using the dedication as a stylistic prop. The pieces are chosen very tastefully and are variously dedicated to cultural, national and personal ideals.

Denoth released a disc a few years ago with arrangements of the lute music of John Dowland, demonstrating most eloquently his early music credentials, which is reflected to good effect when he takes us back to the 16th century with Luis de Narvaez. We journey forward to the classical Fernando Sor, and closer to our time with Joaquin Malats, Isaac Albéniz, Joaquín Turina, Miguel Llobet, Manuel de Falla, Joaquín Rodrigo, and Heitor Villa-Lobos. The music is not presented chronologically, but rather grouped in a convincing way that allows for connections and juxtapositions. I noted an interesting link with his latest release, in Malats’ delightful Serenata espagnolo, which originally formed part of an orchestral suite. It was arranged by the composer for solo piano, which led to Tarrega’s well-known version for solo guitar, played here winningly as the opening work. Denoth then offers us his own version for guitar and orchestra, on the current CD, which is most effective.

Whilst Latin America is only represented by Villa-Lobos, we are presented with his complete 5 Preludes, written at the time he had achieved a great reputation and stylistic maturity. The inspiration for each piece varies from his native Brazil to, perhaps inevitably, Bach. Denoth imparts great atmosphere to these archetypal pieces, with some attractive tonal shading and quicksilver finger work. This attractive centrepiece is preceded by the composer’s Schottish-Choro, and cleverly, Sor’s Theme and Variations Upon Ye Banks and Braes. This is a work I was not wholly familiar with, but the composer, who was strongly attracted to this form of writing, delivers a charmingly melodic work, quite different to the Diferencias by Narvaez, based on another popular song, Watch over my Cows, which is drawn from a collection of works written for the vihuela. Though not overly complex, it is quite charming and wistful. From the same collection is the Song of the Emperor, dedicated to the Emperor Charles V and based on Josquin’s famous Mille Regrets, which was apparently a favourite piece. These works are delivered with great clarity and sound very well on the guitar.

Miguel Llobet is represented by two reflective pieces, Canco del lladre and El testament d’Amelia, which demonstrate the soloist's beauty of tone and expressivity to perfection. Falla’s Homenaje - Le Tombeau de Debussy, is quite different in tone, a darkly reflective habanera that impresses despite its brevity, gloriously contrasted with Turina’s virtuoso Sevillanas. This grabs your attention, with its dramatic opening rasgueado, which quickly immerses you in a world of brilliant colours and sounds. The piece is based on a dance but given the treatment of a fantasia, and was famously premiered by its dedicatee, Segovia. Denoth gives a strong and spontaneous reading with plenty of light and shade. This sits next to Albeniz’ famous barcarola, Mallorca, which is based on the style of a Mallorcan lament and is given a very sympathetic rendition. The Spanish landscape is the inspiration behind Rodrigo’s attractive In the Wheatfields which is deliciously evoked by Denoth.

The whole programme is very satisfying and superbly presented by a musician who plays the music unfettered by mannerisms and allows it to speak for itself. The connections are cleverly thought through, but it is the music that counts, and this scores at every point; whilst there is virtuosity in the artist's readings, it is always at the service of the music. The production is very clear, with a vibrant and warm tonal quality, which helps make the recital very agreeable listening from start to finish. Highly recommended.



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