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Sergio ASSAD (b. 1952)
‘Mikis’ Concerto Fantasia for guitar and strings (1999) [27:28]
Five World Dances for guitar and string quartet (2002) [24:56]
Thanos Mitsalas (guitar)
Simos Papanas and David Bogorad (violins), Hara Seira (viola), Angelos Liakakis (cello), Yiannis Hatzis (double bass)
rec. Cue Productions, Thessaloniki, 2010
CLEAR NOTE 74651 [52:21]

Sergio Assad’s reputation as one of the contemporary world’s most generous composers for guitar, his own instrument, is pretty much unchallenged. He lends his equally generous written imprimatur to this recording in which he praises Greek guitarist Thanos Mitsalas and his string colleagues for the recording of two of his chamber works.

Mikis, the Concerto Fantasia for guitar and strings was composed in 1999 and based on music by Mikis Theodorakis called Lorca, a setting for guitar, contralto voice, choir and orchestra. It’s the guitar’s concertante role that Assad has especially turned to, employing pairings of Theodorakis’ songs in each of the three movements. The music has a wealth of beguiling charm and, given the downward sonic extension of the double-bass added to the string quartet; it’s vested with a bigger-than-expected sonority. There are rich Iberian rhythms, expressive breadth and plenty of alluring refinement. The longest movement is the central Andante, its wistful nostalgic lyricism balanced by faster contrastive runs, the product of elastic long-breathed writing rich in romance. Occasional fiesta-like moments of happiness and the occasional mordant incident widen the music’s expressive compass. The finale is not pressed too hard but unfolds with a natural sense of buoyancy. A cadenza is deftly played by the splendid soloist.

The Five World Dances for guitar and string quartet was Assad’s first work for this combination in 2002. The movements cover Middle-Eastern, Celtic, African, Balkan and Latin American. Each is sharply characterised, from the swaying aura of the opener, through the wistful lyric romance of the Celtic twilight, to the resonant drama of the Balkans. Still, perhaps it’s the succulent tristesse of the Latin-American panel that most engages the listener, the music’s tempi full of giddy and heady excitement. Once again Mitsalas and his excellent string colleagues prove equal to the music’s demands, vesting it with rich sonority and technical address.

This isn’t a new disc; it was recorded back in 2010. It’s presented in card gatefold style with some colour photographs of the performers and composer and booklet recollections of a clearly very happy and satisfying recording. It certainly sounds like it from this delightful disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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