Johan Löfving: Fandango!

Music for solo guitar and String Quartet
Johan Löfving, Consone Quartet
Resonus Classics RES10260. 72’43

The guitar is more usually associated with rock/pop music from the 1950s onwards or, in more classical thinking, as a Baroque continuo instrument of Spanish origin and influence. But in this recording, Swedish-born guitarist Johan Löfving puts paid to both those assumptions with a lovely exploration of the guitar in the early Romantic era in places such as Paris and Vienna where the newly developed six-string guitar enjoyed a relatively brief moment of glory.

The programme opens with the delightful Fandango Variado by Dionisio Aguado (1784–1849), one of the leading Spanish guitarists of the age who spent several years in Paris. As Johan Löfving explains in his programme notes, Aguado was introduced to the Fandango by his teacher, a monk called Padre Basillo, despite the dance having been banned by the church because of its ‘sinful nature’. He then moves to Vienna, with the Sonata Brillante by Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829). He moved in elevated circles which included Beethoven and the guitar playing Schubert and the Empress Marie Louise. In Viennese classical style, the Sonata includes element of Italian opera, notably in the sensuous central Adagio con grand espressione.

A generation or two on, Napoleon Coste (1805-1883) was making a name for himself in Paris. A pupil of Fernando Sor, he counted musicians such a Berlioz, also a guitar player, as friends. His Les Soirees d’Auteuil is evocative of Parisian saloon music. Fernando Sor is seen as the greatest of the 19th-century guitar composers. He is represented by the tiny Op.31 Etude, a gentle Cantabile reflection of his teaching activities, but musically way beyond a mere teaching study.

Giulio Regondi (1822-1872) had an interesting life, having been adandoned by his step-father in London (where he remained) following a youthful tour of Europe as a child prodigy. Sor dedicated a piece to him when he was just nine. His Introduction et Caprice is his best known work, the Adagio opening a prelude to some virtuoso playing.

The recording ends, not surprisingly, with Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) and his notorious Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D major, with its famous concluding movement: Grave assai – Fandango. For this Johan Löfving is joined by the impressive Consone Quartet, the mood of the opening Pastorale in particular benefitting from their delicate and sensitive playing. For last two minutes of the final Fandango, flamenco dancer Nanako Aramaki joins in the fun, playing castanets.

The playing is superb throughout. Johan Löfving catches the Romantic idiom of the music perfectly through his sensitive use of rubato and the delicacy of his touch. He plays a restored French Tribout guitar dating from 1850. More details, and a link to the notes, can be found here.