Given the kind of money even a mediocre guitarist can make fiddling with a chord or two in a rock band, you have to wonder what it is that gets some young guitarist to spend years studying the classical guitar. It couldn’t be the money. It isn’t likely the fame—there are a number of acclaimed virtuosi, but for every Sharon Isbin, there are likely to be 100 Joe—well you name your poison. And when push comes to shove, even a star like Isbin is not averse to seeking a larger audience as perhaps her latest collaborative effort indicates. Whatever it is that motivates artists to devote their talents to musical genres which may not be at the center of popular interest, you have to be thankful they are willing to do it. Their efforts keep alive the musical traditions that have defined past cultures and enchanted listeners over the years, and if new listeners are not quite legion, there are enough of them to make those efforts worthwhile.
Classical guitarist Patrick Appello is a case in point. Not only has he devoted himself to the instrument, but instead of working with something like the crowd pleasing modern classic, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, he has chosen to specialize in Early Music and Romantic guitar literature. The Last Rose of Summer, his newly released album, a collection of pieces from the Romantic period, makes a good case for his choice. The music – some familiar, some quite – unfamiliar illustrates the untapped riches available to an artist willing to seek them out.
The album begins with work by Johann Kasper Mertz, a Hungarian composer born in 1806—a Hungarian composer I must admit I had never heard of before. Appello’s album notes provide some interesting biographical material, although it acknowledges that little is known about the man. It does mention that in1848, suffering from neuralgia, he was prescribed strychnine as a remedy. He suffered strychnine poisoning when his wife gave him the entire supply of the poison in one dose. How this effected his music is unclear; one can only imagine how it might have affected his marriage.
“Opern-Review: Lucia di Lammermoor“ is a solo composition based on themes from the Donizetti opera. “Opern-Review” as a musical genre is a term I am unfamiliar with, but from the work itself, it seems to develop several ideas from the source much the way others have composed variations based on earlier works. It offers the guitarist a nice range of moods to work with. This is followed by two Schubert Leider (songs) arranged by Mertz.
The rest of the album consists of selections from the work of the better known Italian guitarist composer, Mauro Giuliani. There are three of the airs selected from his Six Irish National Airs, with Variations for Guitar or Lyre Solo. They include what are probably the best known works on the disc: “The Last Rose of Summer” and “My Lodging in on the Cold Ground,” better known as “Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms,” both based on lyrics by the Irish poet, Thomas Moore. The third is the rollicking Irish dance, “Garryowen.” Four pieces from the second part of Giulianiate, the composer’s last authenticated work close the album.
All in all, the album offers a nice selection of repertoire. Listeners have an opportunity to become acquainted with the work of a lesser known composer. They can hear some well known traditional music adapted in new settings; they can hear some of the work of one of the great composers for the guitar. And all of it is played with skill and sensitivity. Patrick Appello’s artistry is evident throughout.
It is interesting to note that Appello is playing an 1846 Rene Lacôte guitar from the Augustine guitar collection. It was reconstructed in 2006 by Jason Perry. The album notes: “The instrument represents the mature, robust Lacôte style of construction, possessing the qualities of enhanced volume, resonance and a distinctively modern timbre.”