Thursday , June 30 2022
los angeles guitar quartet lagq opalescent

Music Reviews: Los Angeles Guitar Quartet – ‘Opalescent’ and Frederic Hand – ‘Across Time’

Two new albums highlight broad creativity and great virtuosity in the realm of the classical guitar. Opalescent from the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (LAGQ) features music by 20th- and 21st-century composers of manifold talents. They include Frederic Hand, whose own new album of original compositions is called Across Time.

Los Angeles Guitar Quartet – Opalescent

Opalescent includes a four-guitar arrangement by the LAGQ’s own Matthew Greif of Michael Hedges’ hypnotic “Aerial Boundaries.” It’s a skillful reimagining of one of Hedges’ best-known works and a welcome recollection of his groundbreaking contributions to guitar artistry.

Phillip Houghton’s muscular three-movement “Opals” gives the album its title. Its evocative moods and rhythms evoke the stones that inspired the work, as when dissonant flurries interrupt the gentle rocking of the middle “Water Opal” movement suggesting the sense of unexpected movement arising from a gaze into one of these stones. After the dynamic final movement, we hear a ruminative “Chorale” by Frederic Hand inspired by Renaissance and Baroque choral music and reflecting folk and jazz elements.

The “Chaconne” by Robert Beaser is a gripping modernist expansion on that ancient form based on a repeated bass line. “Suite Transcendent” by Tilman Hoppstock (who often writes as the fictitious Allan Willcocks) is a set of five intriguing miniatures crammed with ideas. It includes a ghostly piece mostly made up of harmonics, and another that evokes gamelan music.

Bookending the album are two pieces inspired by light: the rippling “Hidden Realm of Light” by Andrew York, and “Wave Radiance,” an ostinato construction by Houghton that actually put me in mind, in a good way, of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

Frederic Hand – Across Time

Frederic Hand’s new album Across Time collects some of the venerable guitarist’s original compositions dating from 1977 to 2021. It begins with the newest works, and they are gems: the captivating, Brazilian-flavored “Renewal”; the thoughtful homage “Ballade for Astor Piazzolla”; and “The Passionate Pilgrim,” a transcription of a songlike theme-and-variations piece that Hand originally wrote for the Renaissance lute.

The ancient mode continues with “The Poet’s Eye,” a setting of a passage from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with pure-toned vocals from Lesley Hand. Lesley Hand also sings on “I Am,” a beatific setting of the famous poem that ends “Do not stand at my grave and cry,/I am not there. I did not die,” and she returns for “There Is a Splendor,” a setting of an early-Renaissance poem by Marsilio Ficino. Here a friendly vocal melody glides over interesting guitar harmonies.

From this folksy realm the album moves into the 19th century Romantic era with the heartfelt melodies of “Romantic Etude” and the Ravel-inspired “A Waltz for Maurice.” Hand’s sure, delicate touch proves ideal for the warm sentiment arising from these pieces. As throughout the album, the music is recorded with deft sensitivity that matches Hand’s playing.

At the fulcrum of the album is “Simple Gifts,” the Shaker song best known from Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, a piece many listeners will recognize.

“Trilogy” and “Late One Night,” from 1977, are here digitally remastered from a long-ago album. The sound is just as good as on the newly recorded tracks. The music takes its cue from modern jazz. “Trilogy”‘s second movement, marked “Gently,” feels very much like a jazz ballad. The edgy “Allegro” sounds a bit Brubeckian; a walking bass line spiders through one section.

Across Time is 52 minutes well spent. Much of the music is on the soothing side; the closing track, “Cooper Lake,” even sounds like a lullaby, albeit one that ends with a question. But some tracks will leap out and grab you forcefully. And all will repay a close listen, as Hand’s beautiful touch and masterful technique never falter.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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