Jim Tosone has written the liner notes for the debut recording Siesta in Catalonia by classical guitarist Nirit Ziv-Wexler. The CD contains guitar arrangements by Catalonian guitarist-composer Miguel Llobet.
This is a first-rate recording, from the piece selection and performance to the recording quality and (of course) the liner notes--which are reprinted below.
Siesta in Catalonia. A nap in the early afternoon as a respite from the hot, humid Mediterranean summers. This was the climate and culture into which composer/guitarist Miguel Llobet was born in 1878 and where he lived until his death at the age of 59. Throughout his life he was immersed in the unique, rich folk traditions of this northeast region of Spain, a region which shares history and language with parts of France, Andorra, and Sardinia. Ritual dances and poetic ballads on romantic legendary themes are a vital part of the Catalonian cultural heritage.
It is to the folk songs of Catalonia that Llobet applied his remarkable skills as an arranger. His deep understanding of the guitar enabled him to take the exquisite, expressive melody lines of these folk songs and infuse them with harmonies and rhythms that that are simple yet refined. Llobet’s transcriptions of the folk songs assumed a larger significance in the history of the guitar when, around 1915, he introduced them to Andrés Segovia. Segovia added arrangements of the folk songs El Mestre, L’Hereu Riera, El Testament d’Amelia, and El Noi de la Mare to his performance program and they were an important part of his concerts during the 1920s and 1930s. Llobet’s arrangement of El Mestre is noteworthy for its harmonic development, while El Testament d’Amelia and Plany show his innovative use of the guitar’s tonal palette. La Cançó del lladre, unadorned but cultured in its arrangement, was Llobet’s last harmonization for guitar. El Noi de la Mare (The Mother's Son or The Son of Mary) is a traditional Christmas folk song. His arrangement of it has been a popular encore piece
Llobet’s arrangements did not end with the folk songs of Catalonia. He also became a prominent interpreter and arranger of the music of composer/pianist Isaac Albéniz. Although Albéniz’s music is most often associated with the southern region of Andalusia and the city of Granada, he was in fact born in the Catalonian city of Camprodon in 1860. To some extent, his music was the guitar expressed through the medium of the piano. Albéniz once said, “Llobet was the guitarist bordering on the marvelous because he imprinted on the strings of his guitar a stamp of elegant purity which astounds.” The four duets on this recording illustrate Llobet’s use of the resources of the guitar in the form of harmonics, pizzicato, and fingering passages in the higher positions of the fretboard for tonal color. The Evocation from Albéniz’s monumental piano suite Iberia encompasses the dance forms of jota and fandango. Castilla from Suite espańola features a five-part seguidilla, a dance in triple meter. In each of these pieces, Llobet stays close to the original piano score, while introducing colors and harmonies that reflect the influence of the French Impressionists. The one piece where Llobet takes more liberty with the original is in Rumores de la Caleta (Malaguena), where he translates gestures idiomatic to the piano into those more natural to the guitar.
Llobet also arranged a work by composer/guitarist Fernando Sor, entitled Variaciones sobre un tema de Sor, op. 15. This may at first appear to be a departure from the Catalonian theme of this recording, as Sor’s musical style was rooted firmly in the conventions of the Classical period. However, Sor was born in Barcelona in 1778 and lived his first thirty-five years in Spain, absorbing the musical influences of Catalonia. Llobet’s arrangement is based on Sor’s Folies d’Espagne, op. 15. It begins with Sor’s theme and first two variations, and includes four more variations, an intermezzo, and another four variations. The beauty of Llobet’s arrangement is the different character and technique that he brings to each variation, ranging from a variation for left-hand only to a variation comprised of harmonics.
The idea for this recording began to take shape seven years ago, when Nirit Ziv-Wexler read the scores of Llobet’s folk songs for the first time. The attraction was immediate. She had always loved the simple, compelling, time-tested character of folk songs, and found this personified in Llobet’s arrangements. Ziv-Wexler realized that by building the recording around Llobet the arranger, instead of Llobet the composer, she could also include ensemble music. It was during her research into Llobet’s duet arrangements that she homed in on Albéniz and his beautiful Spanish themes. Llobet’s Sor variations completed the collection. Ironically, it was only years later, when Ziv-Wexler was examining biographies of Albéniz and Sor, that she realized they shared a Catalonian birthright with Llobet.
Nirit Ziv-Wexler received her B.Mus degree in 1992 from Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, where she studied with Joseph Urshalmi. In 1994, she received her MM degree from Yale School of Music, where she studied with Benjamin Verdery. Her awards include scholarships from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation and the Yale School of Music. She has performed in master classes for John Williams, Eliot Fisk, Sharon Isbin, David Russell and others. Her strong ensemble playing, which can be heard in the Albéniz duets, is in part a result of her experience performing with the Israeli Guitar Trio in the early 1990’s. Her engaging solo performances of the folk songs and the Sor variations reflect her many recitals in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.
Ziv-Wexler was raised in Haifa, Israel. The nearby coast has much in common with the Barcelona area—a scenic view to the Mediterranean Sea, the beaches, the palm trees that decorate the streets, and warm, humid summers. And yes, they have siesta, too.
Reader Feedback on Program Notes
“Very interesting liner notes. I think I will pick up the album.” Stuart S.
"Congratulations on your contribution to Nirit's CD with your liner notes. I feel like I know her from reading them. Great job.” Jean D.
"Thanks for recommending this. I enjoyed your liner notes and I bought a copy to listen to while reading the latest Spanish murder mystery." Jim T. (no relation)
"I had the pleasure of reading your liner notes this morning. You did a top rate job! They are informative, contextual, and provide a lot of interesting and obscure biographical detail (such as Sor’s first 35 years in Spain). I especially enjoyed hearing your description of how Llobet 'added value' to the folk songs and the pieces from Isaac Albéniz, in particular with his impressionistic harmonies. Keep the great stuff coming." David P.
Reader Feedback on Nirit's Performance
"She has poetic sound and phrasing!" David P.
“I loved the cuts, just ordered the album.” Priscilla T.
“I enjoyed the notes...they are transporting, as is Nirit's playing.” Ann C.
"Nice job on the liner notes! And the tracks I listened to from the CD were lovely." Sharon L.