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5 stars review in Fanfare

June 2, 2023

Colin Clarke

ALL CLASSIC  Scandinavian Gtr Duo  OUR RECORDINGS 8.226917 (51:15) HANDEL Chaconne in G, HWV 435. GRANADOS Valses poéticos. FAURÉ Dolly Suite, op. 56 (all arr. Scandinavian Gtr Duo). SOR (ed. Coste) L’encouragement, op. 34.

The Scandinavian Guitar Duo comprises Per Pålsson and Jesper Sivebæk offer beautiful, stylish performances of some favorite music. They play pretty much as one; their rapport is what makes this disc so special. Couched in OUR Recordings’ characteristically wonderful sound (this is not an SACD, as many OUR releases are, but the sound is pristine), the only real complaint I have is that the playing time is somewhat low.
Handel’s Chaconne, HWV 435 was first published in 1735 as part of Suites de Pièces. It is a gentle yet noble piece. The balance created by the two members of the Scandinavian Guitar Duo is simply impeccable, with the gentle but firm bass set against a clarion, quiet top. As the music becomes ever more mobile, Pålsson and Sivebæk maintain rock-steady rhythm something that increases, rather than diminishes, excitement. The skill on display, the evenness of articulation, the way melodies are sustained, is miraculous. More, there is pure joy here.
Written in 1828, Sor’s L ’Encouragement, op. 34, was written for two guitars. It is a fantasia, and is structures as a Cantabile opening, a set of variations, and a waltz. This was a teaching piece, with the student on primo and the teacher on secondo. Nice that all parts of the piece (including individual variations) are separately tracked here. The Scandinavian Guitar Duo give the theme out absolutely charmingly, with the perfect appoint og “gve” at the final cadence. Sor’s variations themselves are masterly, and this performance honors the dynamic contrasts perfectly. This is a much-recorded work (probably most famously by John Williams and Julian Bream), but this version will grace any collection. Talking of grace, the Scandinavian Guitar Duo’s second variation is the epitome of that quality; the repeated notes of the variation that follows, delivered at high speed, offer superb contrast. The concluding Valse is heard as a blaze of triple-time sunshine.
The Valses poéticos by Granados were originally for piano, but they suit the guitar perfectly. Perhaps the highlight is the more harmonically complex, powerfully emotional fourth waltz (Tempo de Vals Lento), surely the emotional heart of the set. Each phrase is carefully considered, as is the place of the waltz in the context of the set as a whole. Pålsson and Sivebæk's rubato in the sixth waltz is unbelievably natural (given this is a studio recording), while they push the boundaries of sentimentality without achieving the saccharine in the seventh (which ism after all, marked "sentimental" in parentheses).
The final piece here is Faure’s eternally gorgeous Dolly Suite. Again, Williams and Bream have recorded this, but this is the Scandinavian Guitar Duo’s own arrangement. This performance honors all of Faure’s glowing harmonies without over-luxuriating: tempos ensure the music moves. The movement called “Mi-a-ou" positively sparkles, fast and yet with every note audible; the textural variety of the jaunty “Kitty Valse” would lift the most tired of spirits. The ebb and flow of the phrases of “Tendresse,” the penultimate music, are perfectly judged, while the concluding “Le Pas espagnole” has a delightful rhythmic lift.
Presentation is absolutely up to OUR Recordings’ standards, with detailed notes and lavish photography. This is a superb disc. Do not let the popular repertoire fool you: there is much sublime artistry here, caught in a fantastic recording. Unhesitatingly recommended. Colin Clarke. Five stars

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