Guitarist Jakob Bangsø and the soul of the troubadour

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This month I was very keen to hear Danish guitarist, Jakob Bangsø, play three contemporary guitar concertos on a recording he made with Orchid Classics.

First out on the album is Troubadours by composer John Corigliano, written in 1993. Corigliano has a long career behind him but was nervous about writing a guitar concerto. Concerns over the balance in sound between guitar and orchestra, might have explained this reticence, together with his unfamiliarity with the instrument. ‘The guitar is an innocent instrument. It’s direct. It speaks quietly and beautifully of intimacy’, he says however on the promotional film for Troubadours. I urge you to see the film as it is a charming insight into the creative chemistry between solo guitarist Bangsø and the octogenarian composer, in his New York apartment. https://youtu.be/P84FkpSAnco

And, yes, the guitar is the perfect solo instrument for this concerto which draws on  the life of female 12th century troubadour, La Comtessa (Beatrix) de Dia.

We are  transported back to a time when music was seductive, spare and lyrical. In the score, the orchestra provides the extra layer of meaning and musical texture to the romantic simplicity of the troubadour’s metier. The guitar is the rose to the orchestra’s peony. 

The opening is intriguing, an eerie ethereal contemporary sound taking us on a journey back to  Occitania, Southern France. In the middle movement, oboes, bassoons, tympani conjoin to recreate the riotous, coarse musical texture of a band at a medieval fair. The guitar score following is introspective, delicate but not self-effacing. Just the right balance.

Not a note or section seems arbitrary in Troubadours. It is an exquisite concerto.

Concertos, Saudade (2018) and Chaconne (2016) which follow, are specially commissioned works for Bangsø receiving their world premiere recording.

The Portuguese word ‘Saudade’ does not translate into one word in English but relates to our deepest desires for something that cannot be brought to the present. The composer, Constantine Caravassilis was inspired by the lullabies his grandmother sang to him and also Greek folk song.

In Teneramente a xylophone is struck to evoke stars appearing in a night sky or perhaps the musical toys in the baby’s nursery. Meanwhile the guitar leaps and gambols suggesting laughter and games.

In the fast movement, guitar and orchestra boisterously compete with each other, rhythmic snare drums mimicking castanets. The Adagietto movement is a poignant orchestral retreat into loss and separation, with wistful intervention and messages of  hope provided by guitar. In the final movement we are able to fully appreciate Bangsø’s guitar artistry.

To finish, Bangsø brings us Chaconne by composer Wayne Siegel, written in 2016. In musical terms, a Chaconne is a short harmonic progression repeated and varied slightly, over and over. Siegel’s musical structure and repetition evokes perfectly the churning of the human mind, the replaying of an emotion which just won’t go away.

Jakob Bangsø’s recording with the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra is a fascinating exploration of the theme of nostalgia and memory. Highly recommended.

KH

Jakob Bangsø Guitar Concertos is released on Orchid Classics on September 4th 2020. https://www.orchidclassics.com/releases/orc100142-jakob-bangso/

 

 

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