SOR: Guitar Duets, Vol. 1 (Bonnie Silver/ Robert Kubica/ Wilma van Berkel) (Naxos: 8.553302)
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Fernando Sor (1778 - 1839)
Complete Works for Guitar Duo, Volume 1 (Opp. 34-49)
By the 1820s, dozens of guitarists from throughout Europe had settled in guitar-mad Paris, notably the flamboyant Italians Ferdinando Carulli (1770- 1841), a Neapolitan who had helped fire the French guitaromanie as early as 1808; Francesco Molino (1768-1847), a Piedmontese also accomplished on the violin, with a knack for accessible chamber music and connections to the Bourbon court; and Matteo Carcassi (1792-1853), a Florentine now better remembered as a teacher than a virtuoso.
Standing somewhat apart from this group was the Barcelona-born Fernando Sor (1778-1839), who had been exiled from his native Spain after 1813 because of his political support of the Bonaparte regime. Sor was not only a guitar virtuoso but also the composer of operas, ballets, piano works and songs. In spite of his political background he achieved notable successes throughout Restoration Europe, first in Paris and London, and later during a triumphant tour across Europe to Russia. Back in Paris in the late 1820s, Sor was in the ironic position of the paruenu in a city filled with guitarists, many of them with entrenched followings. He lived quietly, composed, and gave occasional concerts, sometimes with his brother Carlos or his friend Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849). He also attracted a select clientele of pupils who probably provided the greater part of his income. Many of the fashionable young women of that era took music lessons, some in hopes of attracting a suitable husband, others to entertain family and friends in the bourgeois parlour. Sor's pupils included talented amateurs, professional guitarists such as Napoleon Coste (1805-1883), and even the exiled General Jose de San Martin (1778-1850), one of the heroes of South American independence.
Sor's works for guitar duet reflect this life dedicated to pedagogy and to old friends. He came to the genre at a time (his first duo, other than a short Bolero of dubious attribution, was published in 1828) when most guitarists were abandoning in Carulli, the most prolific composer of guitar duos, published only about a half dozen after 1828. Sor's duos were usually dedicated to specific friends or pupils and several (Opp. 34, 44bis, 53, 55, 61 & 62) include left-hand fingering, which is generally missing from his virtuosic solos. Yet despite pedagogical intent Sor's duos, like his studies, are invariably carefully crafted works of considerable charm, many of them among the jewels of the guitar repertoire.
L'encouragement: Fantaisie a deux guitares, Op. 34 (Paris, Pacini, 1828) dedicated to \une de ses Elevesi" has parts labelled "l'eleve", the melody, and "le maitre", the chordal accompaniment). In fact, the pupil's part is quite challenging, and a later edition of the work edited by Sor's pupil Napoleon Coste, sharing the parts between the two guitars, is now often performed. As is typical of Sor's later fantasies, a slow opening movement, Cantabile, in E, is followed by a theme and variations, then a coda which leads directly into the final movement, a waltz.
Divertissement, Op. 38 (Paris, Pacini, 1829-30) was dedicated to Mme Dühring, presumably a pupil. It consists of an Andante moderato, Andantino, and a Waltz, all in G. The waltz seems to have fascinated Sor, and the dance is present in virtually all of his later works. For his next publication he arranged for two guitars Six Valses composees pour l'orchestre par differens auteurs, Op. 39 (Paris, Pacini, 1829-30). This was his first work dedicated to Mlle [Natalie] Houze, almost certainly the same young woman to whom the guitarist Francesco Molino had dedicated his Grand Sonate, Op. 51, and the "Mlle N. H." referred to as "eleve la plus forte de Mr F. Mo," in Molino's Grande Methode, Op. 46. She was also later the dedicatee of Sor's Op. 54 bis and the beautiful autograph Fantaisie for solo guitar now in the collection of the , virtuoso Pepe Romero. Waltzes nos. 1, 3, and 6 are by Mohor; No.4 is by, Steibelt, no.5 by Mozart, and the second one by Sor himself. A few years earlier Sor had published four of these same waltzes for piano four hands.
Les deux amis, Op. 41 (Paris, Pacini, 1829-30) was dedicated to the Spanish guitarist Aguado, with the parts labelled "Sor" and "Aguado". Its structure is similar to Op. 34, except that the last movement is a mazurka rather than a waltz. Sor wrote only a few "equal" duets, dedicated to (and probably performed with) his professional guitarist friends Aguado and Coste. Unlike Sor, Aguado's technique called for the fingernails to contact the strings; he was renowned for his rapid scales. Sor has cleverly balanced the parts to accommodate the different techniques, and has generously provided Aguado with ample opportunities to demonstrate his skills.
The Six Valses faciles, Op. 44 bis (Paris, Pacini, 1831) were dedicated to Mlle Lira, probably the daughter of Jose de Lira, another of Sor's Spanish friends in Paris, and the dedicatee of Op. 56. Jose de Lira was with Sor when he died, and provided his tomb in the cemetery of Montmartre.
The Divertissement militaire, Op. 49 (Paris, Pacini, c. 1832) is an unusual work, dedicated to a certain Mlle Talbot. Its three movements are filled with bugle-calls and other effects reminiscent of the battle music which had proliferated during the Napoleonic wars.
© 1995 Richard M. Long
Kubica-van Berkel Guitar Duo
The guitar duo of Robert Kubica and Wilma van Berkel has been described as possessing "a charisma that is rare in the guitar world", and critics have been consistent in their praise of the duo's expressive range, technical facility, and audience rapport. The Kubica-van Berkel duo was formed in 1990 in Prague, on the advice of the renowned guitarist and composer Stepan Rak, with whom both Robert Kubica and Wilma van Berkel were studying at the time. Rak, delighted with their ensemble work and imagination, soon began presenting the duo in concert in cities around the Czech Republic. Since 1992 they have been based in Canada, where they have been in demand as concert artists and as teachers.
Wilma van Berkel, born in the Hague, the Netherlands, obtained both her teacher's and performer's degrees from the Rotterdam Conservatory, where she studied with Hans van Goch and Jorge Oraison. She was awarded two Foreign Exchange Scholarships from the government of Czechoslovakia and a grant from the Dutch Ministry of Culture to study at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts with Srepan Rak.
Robert Kubica is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario where he was a student of Alan Torok and the recipient of the University Gold Medal in Performance in his graduating year. He also completed his master's degree in guitar performance at the University of Toronto under the guidance of Norbert Kraft.