EXPLORING MUSIC : You'll Enjoy It
The MHS Review 375 Vol. 10, No. 15 • 1986
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David M. Greene
Over the last 20-odd years the Musical Heritage Society has frequently teased the palates of its more jaded members with recordings of odd and exotic instruments. Thus, from time to time, we have had the shawm, the hurdy-gurdy, the cembalo d'amore, the Waldhorn, and the Hardanger fiddle. Most of these I had at least heard of. But what on earth, I asked myself, staring at release sheet no. 3 75, was a Buffalo guitar?
Having finally deduced that the Buffalo Guitar Quartet was probably a quartet of guitarists from Buffalo, my next irrational question was "Why?" Long ago there were four pianists who played together as "The First Pinao Quartet;' for reasons that remain mysterious to me to this day. Some years later when three of my colleagues and I banded together to do poetry readings, we christened ourselves jokingly "The First Poetry Quartet ." But, at least to our minds, we had a clear raison d'etre, for we differed greatly in vocal sound, dramatic approach, and literary tastes, and so perforce guaranteed programs of some variety.
The string quartet has been a standard ensemble since the 18th century and there is a sound reason why. The instruments all belong to the same "family'"--the violins; used together they not only blend well but permit a range from C (the lowest cello note) to a"" (the highest violin harmonic). Though less common, other family quartets (e.g. recorders, flutes, saxophones) exist and have repertoires.
Now it may be that a guitar quartet on the same principle is possible, but after conning several authoritative works on musical instruments I find little or no evidence for a family of modern guitars. The word seems to be, at least as regards the classical Spanish instrument, that a guitar is a guitar is a guitar. Moreover the Buffalo boys themselves admit "a lack of established repertoire for four guitars." I recall concerto written by Rodrigo for the Romero family, and there is Turina's Oracion de/ torero, whose original version was for four lutes. After all the guitar revival is al most solely owing to Andres Segovia, an it was chiefly Alexandre I.agoya and the late Ida Presti who popularized the notion of guitar duos. So for the nonce guita quartets must thrive on arrangements.
Arrangements are what we have here The first three are of solo lute pieces by Dowland. Reading the liner notes, on finds that the "divisions" (variations) characteristic of Jacobean music are parceled out among the members of the group. But since all are excellent players, one gets no sense of variance; this sort of thing would work better on videotape.
With Dr. Bull's virginal piece, The King Hunt, the sonorities of the arrangement give us more sense of quartet-ness. I seems to me that the Bach sonata (only dubiously by Bach, for those who fear desecration of holy ground) at least sounds very well. The two Mozart quarte movements, in which the four guitarists take on the four string parts (appropriately adapted), come off very well indeed. And the Brahms theme-and variations (from the early B-flat Sextet) actually profits in clarity by the new instrumentation. Prepared to scorn, I wound up enjoying the record, which offers some lovely sound
Review of Buffalo Guitar Quartet