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Few in their life-time will observe the evolution of an instrument from its humble folk origins to the concert stages of the world, its meagre repertory being expanded by contributions from some the best composers of the day, the very fabric of its structure being subject to change and innovation using modern scientific thought. Such is the saga of the classical guitar in the 20th century and this recording embodies a number of aspects of that transformation.
It should be noted from the outset that this guitar recording, relative to the many currently
being released each year, is rather different and atypical. The programme falls into two distinct categories of music, each being separated by more than two centuries: current contemporary compositions and those from the Baroque. The pen of the guitarist is present in all compositions, either by way of composer or arranger.
The three original Baroque pieces are not part of the standard guitar repertory and appear on no other recording of which I am aware. La Victoire and La Forqueray (J. Duphly) work very well on the guitar, certainly assisted by the quality of arrangement and execution by the guitarist. The same observations apply to the Anthem from Iphigenie en Tauride’ by C.W. Gluck. Fantasia Bachiana (J. Khalil) could easily be mistaken as a composition from the Baroque. This original work inadvertently incorporates melodic similarities to Bach’s Wei sall ich dich empfangen from the Christmas Oratorio.
Some eighteen months before the 80th birthday of the celebrated guitarist and composer Leo Brouwer, Jonas Khalil embarked on his Homenaje a Leo Brouwer as a commemorative composition in three movements. In it he combines the tonal language of Brouwer with his own style. The Serenata for Cello by Hans Werner Henze comprises nine short, dance-like miniatures. It has also previously been arranged for double bass and viola. Jonas Khalil felt that due to the use of dodecaphony, along with lyrical elements, an arrangement for guitar was an obvious initiative.
From the first track one becomes aware of a number of characteristics which persist throughout the recording: the playing is very precise; the sound is voluminous and of impressive tonal qualities; the timbre at times sounds more like a flamenco guitar than a classical, and at other times is redolent of a harpsichord.
Jonas Khalil was born in 1983 in Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart, where he currently resides. He began playing the guitar at the age of eight years. His early influences in music included The Beatles and Michael Jackson. Aged eleven, he was playing in a band and beginning to write his first songs. After leaving school with university entrance qualifications, aged 19 he entered the Musikhochschule in Karlsruhe. Subsequent to studies in Darmstadt and Stuttgart; he then attended the Mozarteum in Salzburg. He has since attended master classes with internationally renowned guitarists.
While one may not frequently encounter a classical guitarist who pursues a passion for ’heavy metal’, Jonas Khalil takes on a different guise as lead guitarist and songwriter for the band, Sacred Steel.
There is little doubt that diverse musical experience outside Western Art Music has significant effect on the way a musician plays that repertory. We hear this manifested by musicians such as Andres Previn, Yo-Yo Ma and Johnny Gandelsman
(review), among others; it is certainly evident in this recording.
Jonas Khall plays a guitar made by German luthier, Jakob Lebisch (2018). No additional information is supplied in the liner notes, and very little is available from the usual electronic sources. This luthier is famed for double-top guitars, the layers separated by a reinforcement of balsa wood. A reasonable assumption is that this type of instrument is the one used here. It could also explain the volume produced by the instrument, aside from recording environment and refined technique.
It may be that not every item on this recording will be immediately embraced by listeners. What will be acknowledged are the superior guitar playing, and the refreshingly different programme.
Jonas KHALIL (b. 1983)
Homenaje a Leo Brouwer [7:18]
The Cascade Summoning [5:59]
Fantasia Bachiana [4:13] Jacques DUPHLY (1715-1789)
La Forqueray [7:04]
La Victoire [6:09] Hans Werner HENZE (1926-2012)
Serenade for Violoncello solo [7:27] Christoph W. GLUCK (1747-1787)
Anthem from ‘Iphigenie en Tauride’ [3:33]