Classical Guitar Magazine, William Yeoman
I’ve elsewhere written of my undoubtedly irrational aversion to any classical guitar combination exceeding two – but with Spirit of Brazil, its first disc for the UK independent label Chandos, the Aquarelle Guitar Quartet has got me thinking differently. This is a very fine album indeed, with an attractive programme of music of genuine artistic merit (all too uncommon) played with flair, intelligence and an overall ensemble that both unifies and differentiates just where and when you want it to.
In addition to commentaries on each work, the booklet contains a well-deserved endorsement written by Craig Odgen, from whom the quartet received instruction along with Gordon Crosskey at the Royal Northern College of Music. The quartet has also benefited from the wisdom of Sérgio Assad, Oscar Ghiglia and the LA Guitar Quartet’s Scott Tennant, indeed that latter quartet’s LAGQ Brazil, released last year, may well have inspired AGQ’s foray into this exciting and colourful territory (there are only two overlaps: Clarice Assad’s Bluezilian and Bellianti’s well-known A Furiosa).
Bluezilian opens Spirit of Brazil in fine style, with Assad’s skilful blend of jazz, blues and Latin styles, giving the boys of AGQ an opportunity to show they can swing with the best of them while showing off a beautiful corporate tone – which quality becomes even more apparent in former AGQ member Richard Safhill’s fine arrangement of the aria from Villa Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No.5. James Jervis’s arrangement of the composer’s ‘Brincadeira’ from the String Quartet No. 1 is equally happy, the AGQ bring a crisp, tense energy to this quirky little piece.
A more extended work then follows with Clarice Assad’s three-movement Danças Nativas, written for the AGQ and here receiving its premiere recording. From the jazzy samba to the Jobim-inspired “Twisted Samba” through the tender simplicity of the ‘Reflective Canção’ to the busy flamboyance of ‘Mad Baiáo’, the AGQ relishes every vibrant, pulsating detail of this finely-crafted suite. Not even Egberto Gismonti’s beautiful Palhaço as transcribed by James Jervis can upstage it.
Assad père’s superb Uarekena provides an ideal prelude to Roland Dyen’s sprawling, colourful evocation of Brazil, Brésils. This six movement work is a real tour-de-force, with dances such as the modinha, the bossa nova and the xaxado as beautifull utilised as the full resources of the guitar in movements like ‘Da Natureza’, in which the sounds of the Amazonian jungle are imitated, and the ‘Marchinha do Céu’, in which a marching band in the Carnival de Rio is likewise imitated. The AGQ has a lot of fun with this nevertheless seizing on the underlying melancholy in ;Chôro Legal’ and ‘Modinhazul’.
The infectious maxixe of Bellinati’s A Furiosa provides a final explosion of energy before Michael Baker and Vasilis Bessas, the two remaining members of the original AGQ, bring this supremely enjoyable disc to a wistful close with a duet arrangement for another Gismonti piece, Memória e Fado.