The boxed set Song of the Guitar brings together five CDs, originally released over the period 2003 to 2008. It’s very much a Grigoryan family affair, with three CDs from brothers Slava and Leonard as duo guitarists, two solo CDs from Slava, as well as several arrangements and two original pieces by their father Eduard. There are also collaborations with many other musicians and ensembles.
Possibly the most recognisable opening bars in 20th century music signal the start of the single-composer disc Rodrigo, with Slava as soloist in ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’. Regardless of how many versions of it you may already have, it’s worth the purchase price for the attractive playing and clarity of recording. In addition there are two other substantial pieces; ‘Fantasia para un gentilhombre’ presents Leonard as soloist and has a particularly vibrant final movement, while the brothers are together for the colourful and delightful ‘Concierto madrigal’. Brett Kelly and the Queensland Orchestra add to the pleasures of this disc.
Impressions brings together music by Debussy, de Falla and Mompou, played by both brothers in arrangements by Eduard, Leonard and William Lovelady. ‘Suite Bergamasque’, which includes the perennial favourite ‘Claire de lune’, has a wonderful sense of serenity and joy, which is also captured in his ‘Reverie’. De Falla’s ‘Cuatro piezas espanoles’ are filled with fire and vigour. The revelation to me is Frederic Mompou’s ‘Variations on a theme of Chopin’, which is 25 minutes of pure joy. Mompou should be better known, if only because he lived to the grand age of 94.
On Play, the brothers give plenty of reasons for listeners to dance, from Piazzolla’s infectious ‘Tango Suite’ to Radamés Gnattali’s ‘Retratos’, four varied dance movements to inspire even the most sedate of listeners. Eduard Grigoyan’s ‘Kolobok’ is an attractive folk-inspired piece of many moods, while his ‘Day dreams’ and contemporary American Andrew York’s ‘Evening dance’ bring the disc to a quieter and reflective close.
Baroque Guitar Concertos will have great appeal for lovers of the baroque — and ABC Classic FM has recently proven just how many there are and how passionately they love the period. Three Vivaldi concertos demonstrate his usual verve and joyfulness, in arrangements of pieces that began as music for lute, mandolins or violin and lute. This latter arrangement by Emilio Pujol is particularly close to Slava’s heart, for it was the first concerto he played with orchestra, aged twelve or 13. Eduard Grigoryan has arranged both a Handel organ concerto and a Weiss concerto which has taken many forms over the years; Eduard has based his arrangement for guitar and string orchestra on that of Siegfried Behrend. The final piece, Johann Fasch’s Concerto in D minor, originally for lute, is bright, tuneful and optimistic; it should be better known. Benjamin Northey and the Tasmanian Symphony provide fine support to Slava on this CD, a release from 2008.
For me the standout of the collection is Shadow Dances, from 2006, which has music by popular contemporary Australian composer Nigel Westlake, featuring Slava Grigoyan and an array of superb Australian musicians. The ‘Hinchinbrook riffs’ for guitar and digital delay opens proceedings, with string rhythmic force and an almost hypnotic melodic drive. The four-movement ‘Jovian moons’ teams the guitar with Michael Kieran Harvey making great use of the full range of the piano, with dramatic leaps from both instruments. The final movement (‘Io’) is the most dramatic of all and makes a fine showpiece or encore. The bright and sunny ‘Songs from the forest’ introduces Joel Westlake on double bass. The guitar quartet Saffire (Grigoryan, Antony Field, Gareth Koch and Karin Schaupp), bring variety and depth to the playful ‘Flying fish’. The final pieces, ‘Shadow dances’ and ‘Antarctica’, showcase the Melbourne Symphony, conducted by the composer. The first opens in contemplative and delicate mood before erupting into orchestral fire. The ever-popular ‘Antarctica’ suite closes out this fine CD, with the beauty of its vibrant, joyful music – including the unforgettable ‘Penguin ballet’ – leaving the listener begging for more.
Each of these discs is enhanced by the comprehensive and thoughtful program notes, so particular thanks go to Martin Buzacott, Yvonne Frindle, Camilla Gregg, Stephen Schafer, Natalie Shea, Hilary Shrubb and Nigel Westlake.