can skip this part but for the rest here is some useful background
to the genre. Duets for guitar became a part of concert life
in the 1830s, with works by Spanish guitarist-composer Fernando
Sor (1778-1839) and the Italian Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829).
Sor and his guitar partner Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849) were
very successful performers, while further north guitarist-composers
Adam Darr (1811-66) and Friedrich Brand (1806-74) were equally
so in their native Germany.
born in Würzburg in 1870, came to the guitar later in his musical
career; a violinist by training he played in orchestras under
the likes of Nikisch, Weingartner and Mahler but was encouraged
to take up the guitar by the Italian guitarist Luigi Mozzani
(1869-1943). Initially Albert played at society concerts, going
on to become a successful composer and the best-known German
guitarist of his time.
Schrader and Jan Erler discovered Albert’s eight guitar duos
(written between 1915 and 1917) and formed the Heinrich-Albert-Duo
to bring them to a wider public. On the evidence of these performances
it is hard to understand why Albert’s work isn’t more widely
known. Certainly he speaks with a voice that is quite distinct
from that of his Spanish contemporaries. Perhaps eschewing the
traditional guitar keys of E and A major has something to do
with the uniqueness of his sound world. And while the Spaniards
tend to rely heavily on the rhythms and forms of their native
country Albert draws on the minuet, scherzo and rondo, all imbued
with a contemporary accent.
This is not dry
neo-classicism, as the exuberant first movement of No. 6 – Sehr
breit - flott gehend – amply illustrates. Immediately one
is struck by the ease and fluency of the writing, not to mention
the obvious rapport between the players. Unlike a disc of Ravel
piano duos I reviewed recently this is music-making of real
joy and spontaneity, a delight to both the heart and ear. The
music, notably in the more introspective second movement, has
a strong pianistic flavour, while the range of colours Schrader
and Erler produce is just extraordinary. The vigorous concluding
Rondo – Lustig belebt – demands a crispness of attack
and clarity of articulation that is delivered with great panache.
The next three works on this disc – Nos.
2, 1 and 3 – are much shorter and perhaps less distinctive,
with the rhythms of No.2 more reminiscent of the Mediterranean
than northern Europe. Certainly these earlier works can seem
more like exercises in technique – Albert wrote a five-volume
guitar tutor – and they don’t always have the fluidity that
characterises the later ones. That said there are flashes of
what is to come in the Menuett of No. 1, which has plenty
of energy and verve. No courtly reserve here, this is music
of good humour and high spirits.
Make no mistake
these early duos are very accomplished indeed. The first movement
of No. 1 for instance is an absolute delight, the opening melody
taken up and embellished to great effect. The second movement
really sings, the unanimity of the playing simply astonishing.
How fortunate that this neglected pieces have such persuasive
advocates; indeed, it would be hard to imagine them better played.
No. 3 is another
gem, the opening Nicht zu schnell full of wit and point.
Again one is struck by the pianistic quality of the writing,
particularly in the more declamatory moments here and in the
opening movement of No. 5. There is a slight ‘twang’ to the
lower strings at times but strangely enough this adds to the
music’s appeal rather than detracts from it. This ‘colouring’,
almost zither-like at times, is particularly effective in the
half-lit Scherzo misterio of No.5.
After the two-movement
No. 4, with its catchy little motif in the first, we come to
the final works on the disc, No.7 and No.8. They are a winning
blend lovely melodies and an increasingly assured compositional
technique. The latter is particularly evident in the extended
theme and five variations of No. 7, which also gives Schrader
and Erler an opportunity to show off their individual skills.
Fortunately empty virtuosity never gets in the way here, which
says much about the players’ musical priorities.
No. 8 opens with a
real swing and ends with an exuberant tarantella, a fitting close
to a hugely enjoyable disc. Full marks to Schrader and Erler for
rescuing this music from undeserved obscurity and to MDG for providing
an excellent recording. Schrader’s liner notes are clear and informative,
a good mix of historical context and musical analysis. Frankly
I haven’t enjoyed a disc this much in ages and I urge you to audition
it at once.