REVIEWS:  divine art dda 25008 "Elegy" - Modern British Guitar Music

Any CD supported by the Rawsthorne Trust must surely be of general interest to BMS members; they will certainly find reward in this fine guitar collection , which concludes with Alan Rawsthorne’s last opus, the Elegy, commissioned and completed by Julian Bream. An appropriately sombre and disturbing work, this piece suggested to me Dylan Thomas’s celebrated couplet: "Do not go gentle into that good night Rage, rage against the dying of the light." A work to repay repeated hearings. A shorter Elegy by Terence Croucher precedes the Rawsthorne, the last of a series of eight pieces by this composer. Six Preludes briefly explore a variety of musical ideas: the final item is a real winner, as also is the enchanting "The Little Boat". The first ten tracks feature Richards’s own compositions: five MiniPreludes, two Interludes, a piece called Primitive Rites, and two Nocturnes. Coloristic contrast, and an impressive array of well-executed effects characterise this attractive sequence. Two of the Preludes find transatlantic inspiration both north and south of the Border and are delightfully easy on the ear. But Stravinskyan dynamism is also present here, in a recording that throughout catches every tonal nuance of the instrument. Colin Tommis, the prolific J.R. Williamson, Gilbert Biberian and Timothy Harrison are other composers featured in this showcase of British talent: all have something to offer. Lastly, a big name, John Tavener whose 11-minute "Chant" is designed to conjure up his beloved Greek landscape. Daringly economical in texture, it is perhaps not vintage Tavener, but is certainly atmospheric and evocative. On all counts - content, recording and performance - this 65-minute CD is highly recommended.
Andrew Seivewright

A complete disc of 20th century guitar music is a very ambitious programme and British 20th century guitar music unusual fare indeed. Although the inlay notes state that Jonathan Richards has recorded before, his name is unfamiliar to me, as are five of the composers represented here. Tavener, Rawsthorne and Biberian are familiar, the latter two through their guitar compositions and, although Tavener has become very popular recently, this is his first venture into writing for the guitar. For the most part, Jonathan Richards,comes across as a precise, sensitive player being selective in the use of his tonal pallete , a wise move given the short duration of some of the pieces. His overall tone is good (if at times a little thin on the first string) and seems to be in control as long as he doesn't force the sound too much as he does in his Nocturne No. 2 and Primitive Rites where the tone becomes a little 'naily'. His forté is definitely the more lyrical moments. With the exception of Tavener and Rawsthorne the programme mainly consists of groups of small pieces, some lasting only a few seconds. Jonathan Richards' own compositions, although interesting, are the least effective and I feel would have worked better if they had been interspersed throughout the programme rather than grouped together at the opening of the disc. However, with Collin Tommis' Mel Wefus we seem to enter a different musical landscape and Richards seems to be more at home with this piece (even more so than with his own compositions), treating us to some lovely growling bass at the opening. It is a pity that more of this composer is not included here; his is a name I will look out for. Mosaics by John Williamson held less appeal (does a piece lasting only 45 seconds require a subtitle after to indicate it's meaning)? Gilbert Biberian's Haiku Nos, 1 and 6 (and why not include Nos, 2-5?) shows an accomplished guitar composer at his best, totally in control of the medium and, here, inspired by Japanese poetry. The two Timothy Harrison pieces, Nova Antiqua and The Face that launched a Thousand Ships, does conjure up the past, Nova Antiqua certainly retaining an early music feel regardless of the liberal use of subtle modern harmonies. Chant by John Tavener is, at just over 11 minutes, the longest of the programme and gives a feeling of spaciousness that Richards' playing intensifies by focusing the attention and drawing one into the music; for me a high point of this disc. The Six Preludes of Terence Croucher (the longest only 57 seconds) I liked very much, the last giving a nod of recognition to Villa-Lobos. The Little Boat does evoke images of the title and Elegy, a much weightier piece, shows us that there could be more strong compositions from this composer. The closing work, Elegy by Alan Rawsthorne, was the only piece familiar to me. The dedicatee, Julian Bream, recorded it in 1973 and such a strong personality as Bream's cannot be ignored so comparisons are inevitable, Jonathan Richards takes over a minute longer (9 minutes 9 seconds as opposed to Breams 7 minutes 45 seconds) but maintains the intensity of this powerful work most successfully. A very enjoyable disc that will definitely be worth revisiting; the guitarist conveys his own personality, the overall quality of the recording is good and on the whole the material presented is a breath of fresh air.
Andy Daly

Jonathan Richards is a talented player and his recording is less “up front”, more tasteful, than [a new recording by Feeley]. He plays a good deal of his own music, whose style is hardly at the cutting edge. The best pieces are probably the most lively rhythmically, such as the Prelude no 5. The various other miniatures are pleasant enough, but the pieces by John Tavener and Alan Rawsthorne demand our attention. Tavener’s Chant, his only guitar composition, atmospherically evokes a Greek landscape. Rawsthorne’s Elegy was commissioned (and in the event, completed) by Julian Bream, and Richards performs it with remarkable concentration, maintaining the tragic mood **** (for both performance and sound)
Terry Barfoot

Guitarist Jonathan Richards includes four of his own pieces in this interesting disc that was recorded in All Saints’ Church, Ingleby Arncliffe. The most substantial pieces on the disc are Alan Raswthorne’s Elegy and John Tavener’s only work for guitar so far, Chant, that beautifully evokes the Byzantine spirit and landscape of Greece. Both are gems. The music, well played and agreeable, will appeal to guitarists and guitar fans.
David Robson

A programme of late 20 th century British guitar music with works by [lists all composers]. A real impressive performance for rhythmic precision and dynamics. The Elegies and the Welsh folk-song Mel Wefus are unforgettable.

Terence Croucher’s Elegy is particularly fine… I derived most pleasure from John Tavener’s hypnotic Chant and Alan Rawsthorne’s meaty Elegy of 1971. Highly accomplished performances, one and all.
Andrew Achenbach

All the composers on this compilation ably uphold the English plucked-string tradition…….Richards’ contribution is in the form of a clutch of lovingly crafted musical miniatures, harmonically satisfying distillates that take one deeply into the fundamental elements of music. I found the third of Richards’ Mini-Preludes particularly satisfying in its Duartian subtlety. These are tiny aphoristic pieces that make Villa-Lobos’ guitar preludes semm like extended essays. Listening to them, I am reminded of Gorky’s characterisation of the early works of Chekhov each as a Lilliputian bottle holding a quite special, private and precious scent. If Gorky were Mahler, he might have continued the rest of his statement thus: “Next to [Richards’] music, mine sounds as if it were written with a log rather than a pen”. The same can be said for Terence Croucher’s Six Preludes, the longest of which clocks in at 57 seconds. Gilbert Biberian’s two contributions are, as their titles imply, patently haiku-inspired and harmonically delicious. The only extended pieces on this compilation are John Tavener’s 11-minute Chant, Alan Rawsthorne’s 9-minute Elegy and Terence Croucher’s 6-minute piece by the same title. Each demonstrates Jonathan Richards’s ability to sustain a long line far beyond what should be its breaking point. Jonathan Richards and friends are, by the evidence presented, beguiling composers. Richards’s technical ability is faultless and always squarely at the service of the music at hand. This all adds up to a quite special 65 minutes that are at once an eloquent homage to the guitar and that transcend considerations of time, place and genre. William Zagorsky

(extract): An enterprising collection  of almost completely unknown pieces which has to be applauded for its refusal to play to the crowd and just be a collection of audience-pleasers.....the Tavener and the concluding Rawsthorne both receive committed performances, the Tavener in particular having many winning moments…..the playing and recording are clear and vibrant...