Powerful music, but not for the faint of heart
jon | New York, NY USA | 02/04/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Nobody plays the classical guitar quite like Elliot Fisk. Perhaps that's why Luciano Berio chose to write one of his famously difficult Sequenzas for him. From the opening bars of Scarlatti sonata, Fisk puts the listener on notice that this is not going to be an album of quiet background music to play during dinner (as so many classical guitar recordings seem destined to become). This is an album of powerfully, even theatrically, performed music for the classical guitar. If Vladimir Horowitz had been a classical guitarist, he might have sounded something like Fisk. Tempi and dynamics are often taken to extremes, clean articulation can be sacrificed for power and speed when necessary. While a Parkening or a Williams might have an overall more impressive technique than Fisk, their performances tend to be smooth and restrained, rarely matching the heart-on-the-sleeve passion of Fisk. That's not to say that Fisk's interpretations are necessarily superior, just very, very different.Few, if any, of the pieces on this album are part of the standard classical guitar repertoire making it a great acquisition for classical guitar fans looking for something new. Of the older pieces, the Mendelssohn songs without words are particularly lovely, and remarkably coherent as a whole despite being taken from several different song cycles composed years apart. The Scarlatti sonatas are also quite engaging, especially the first, which is given surprisingly modern treatment.And then there's the Sequenza itself. I won't lie: it will be tough listening for those not familiar with 20th century post-tonal music. But once you get past the jarring harmonies, it becomes apparent that it is a amazingly well-written piece, particularly for a composer who was not himself a guitarist. Berio has taken idioms of the classical guitar literature and used them to construct a piece that is utterly modern in terms of harmony, melody and rhythm, and yet clearly rooted in the classical guitar tradition and vocabulary. As for Fisk performance, virtuosic is the only word to describe it, although this may only be fully apparent to those familiar with classical guitar technique (the tone-cluster chords that appear throughout the score are quite difficult to voice on the guitar, requiring some serious finger stretching and contortion).But even if Berio's avant garde music is not to your taste, I would still highly recommend this album for all the other wonderful music it contains. For those used to Parkening and Willaims, this disc should be a truly eye-opening experience."