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SEPTEMBER 2017 | Aquarelle Guitar Quartet: Spirit of Brazil

SEPTEMBER 2017 | Aquarelle Guitar Quartet: Spirit of Brazil

By RAY PICOT

The guitar quartet as an ensemble has produced some enjoyable and sometimes inspirational pieces, though with most discs it is a mix of dedicated works for the ensemble and their arrangements. So what makes this album so special apart from the obvious title? Well, it really gets to the heart of the music, which is amazing when you realise the musicians started out on their journey at the Royal College of Northern Music. The quartet has a lightness of touch, an ear for an effective arrangement and virtuosity in spades. In their booklet notes on their 2009 CD, Spirit of Brazil, the Quartet seek to represent the breadth of the country’s guitar music from the classical to the more popular and improvisatory styles. They also evoke percussive elements imaginatively which are key to several of the pieces.

There is an audible tribute to those stalwarts of Brazilian guitar music, the Assad Brothers, in particular Sergio and his daughter Clarice. The Quartet evidently spent a week with Sergio Assad before recording the fascinating Uarekena, which takes its inspiration from an Amazonian tribe after whom the piece is named. Containing busy cross-rhythms and imaginative textures it makes a memorable impression.

I was interested to hear how the next generation responded to the same challenges and Clarice Assad does not disappoint, opening with her Bluezilian, which sets the pace as it dips into blues, jazz as well as typical Brazilian dances, leaving you wanting to hear more. What you get is the Danças Nativas, an attractive, well-written suite of Brazilian dances dedicated to the Quartet in this premiere recording, that are strikingly arranged and played quite brilliantly. Clarice Assad is a pianist, vocalist and composer with a growing reputation, and her music repays investigation on a number of albums featuring her music.

You can’t have an album like this without Villa-Lobos and we are served up the well-known 'Aria' from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, arranged idiomatically by the former Quartet member Richard Safhill, and quite surprisingly the 'Brincadeira' from the String Quartet No. 1, arranged by Quartet member James Jervis. I must admit this made me go back to this work and remind me how convincing a writer the composer was for strings.

The lighter and more popular side of Brazilian music is served admirably by two pieces by Gismonti, the Palhaço and Memória e fado, both quite contrasting, improvisatory and nostalgic.

A furioso by Paulo Bellinati is most enjoyable, described as an African polka, but the piece de resistance for me is Brésils by the French composer Roland Dyens, who writes brilliantly charismatic music for the guitar. This 6-movement suite ranks with many of his finest works, exploring a panoply of Brazilian colour from the Amazon jungle to the fantastic carnivals of Rio. Whilst the individual movements are quite short they cram in so much invention, colour and charm which carry you away in their sheer exhilaration. The technical demands are quite ferocious too, but the Aquarelles carry off the suite with great aplomb - it is hard to imagine them being bettered.

Overall a wonderful and inventive album that does credit to the four musicians that make up the Quartet. I must admit to having heard some of their other albums but this one for me stands out as vibrant and utterly evocative. Explore it without reservation! 

 

 

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