The Results are Uniformly Excellent

The Results are Uniformly Excellent

 International Record Review, Robert Levett

In their booklet note, Aquarelle Guitar Quartet members Michael Baker and Rory Russell write about how the quartet was ‘confronted by a vast array of fabulous soundtracks that made it extraordinarily hard to know which could be represented on the CD to best effect’ and, more importantly, how to decide which works four guitars could do justice to and would therefore make the ‘final cut’. It’s a credit to the UK·based quartet’s taste and discrimination that there’s not a dud track on this, its third release for Chandos, after the superb ‘Spirit of Brazil’ and ‘Dances’ (reviewed in June 2009 and July/ August 2010 respectively).

As with those previous two releases, variety is also one of the chief determining factors of what to include. So along with more lively numbers such as Django Reinhardt’s ‘Minor Swing’ from the soundtrack of Chocolat, Anton Karas’s ‘Was It Rain’ from The Third Man and the arrangement of Theodorakis’s ‘Cretan Dance’ from Zorba the Greek we have more subtly passionate works like Michael Nyman’s ‘The Heart Asks Pleasure First’ from The Piano and the classic Carlos Gardel tango ‘Por una cabeza’ from Scent of a Woman. There are also frankly sentimental favourites such as Stanley Myers’s ‘Cavatina’ from The Deer Hunter, Francis Lai’s ‘Where Do I Begin’ from Love Story and the main theme from John Wlliams’s moving soundtrack for Schindler’s List.

All four guitarists have shared the arranging between them; the results are uniformly excellent, with the parts well distributed and all the coloristic resources of the guitar exploited. This latter is especially evident in the opening ‘Minor Swing’, which also features some of the most exciting playing on the disc, and in a fine arrangement by Vasilis Bessas of Gustavo Santaolalla ‘s ‘De usuahia a la Quiaca’ from The Motorcycle Diaries. By contrast, sweetness of tone and legato playing along with some impressive cantabile phrasings come to the fore not only in numbers like ‘Cavatina’, where they are obviously expected, but in the simple, folk-like melodies of ‘The Heart Asks Pleasure’ and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s music for Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. Even the Bryan Adams/Michael Arnold Kamen/Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange song ‘Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?’ from Don Juan DeMarco comes close to sounding like a masterpiece of Latin pastiche.

The recording is both spacious and intimate; in addition the four guitars (three of which are by Australian luthiers Greg Smallman and Paul Sheridan) are clearly separated in the sound picture without sounding artificial. All in all, a highly enjoyable release, with the Aquarelle Guitar Quartet yet again proving that sometimes four guitars really are better than one.