THE RECORDING One of the most daunting, yet exciting challenges of playing in a guitar quartet has always been finding repertoire. When the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet was formed back in 1986, we only knew about Los Romeros and the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet; the fabulous playing of these groups has undoubtedly inspired the formation of many guitar ensembles. But for a new group in 1986, the available repertoire looked pretty slim. It may be only a slight exaggeration to say that at that time, the entire recorded output for guitar quartet could have been listened to in one afternoon and most of that music wasn’t published. Had we been a newly formed string quartet, we could have played for years, perfectly content with the existing repertoire. As a guitar quartet, we were compelled to immediately begin commissioning new works and arranging pre-existing works for our group. This recording is our first dedicated entirely to our own transcriptions.
Over the years, the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet has approached arranging in a variety of ways. For our earliest transcription, we generally stuck to repertoire that transferred easily to four guitars using the standard tuning. Later arrangements used an eight string guitar to extend the low range or requinto guitars to increase the high range. These instruments made some repertoire more easily adaptable to our ensemble, but it wasn’t long before we soured to the idea of traveling with extra guitars.
The three arrangements on this recording cover a period of about four years during which I gradually settled into some practical ways of expanding the range of the guitar quartet while still using standard six-string guitars. I use the word “standard” somewhat cavalierly, since these arrangements are not exactly playable on four standard six-string guitars. In all three works, one guitar part requires a 21st fret and in the Albeniz and Mussorgsky, two of the guitar parts must tune the sixth string down to either B or A. We made these low notes work by using the largest string that could still be tuned back up to E. I first considered the possibility of extending the low range in this manner after seeing it done very successfully by the likes of Sergio Assad and Paulo Bellinati. The use of the over size sixth string does present some thorny problems, however, and one must spend extra time on tuning practice. In a live performance, it is no easier matter to lower a string from the standard E down to A and have it stay in tune.
The Piazzolla pieces are the earliest arrangements on this CD. Because of the fantastic orchestration and variety of color in the originals, we spent a great deal of time experimenting with the guitar’s full range of percussive effects. The second work, Tango para una Ciudad, part 1, with it’s gorgeous violin solo, presented a nice opportunity to make extended use of string bends and portamento.
When arranging Albeniz’ piano music for guitar, it’s possible for one to feel at times a certain smugness about “untranscribing” a work that was supposed to be for guitar in the first place. Of course, while indulging in some healthy pride about our instrument, I could not ignore the fact that Albeniz’ music already sounds fabulous on the piano and it is no easy matter to achieve the same success on the guitar. While certain passages really need the guitar, such as the obvious imitations of guitar rasgueado in El Puerto and at the end of El Albaicin, this music is generally idiomatic to the solo piano and not easily amenable to being expanded into ensemble music. If it were possible to play these pieces on one guitar, a single player could perhaps more easily give them the expansiveness and flexibility of phrasing they seem to call for, but our great desire to perform these beautiful works as a quartet helped us to overcome the ensemble challenges. These three works are the most recent arrangements on this CD.
I will admit that part of what led me to arrange Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for four guitars was my wish to do something audacious. At the same time, I hoped to make an arrangement that was respectful of the original, musically successful, and practical in performance. I will not presume to assess my level of success except to admit that the arrangement is only somewhat practical. As I described previously, two of the guitarists must deal with some difficult tuning problems. On this recording, David Crittenden plays most of “Pictures” with his two lowest strings tuned to B and G, and then late in the piece his 5th string is brought down to B-flat. Learning to read in this tuning is difficult and learning to keep these strings exactly on pitch is even more so. For my part, I play the entire piece with the 6th string in A and for The Ox Cart my first string goes up to F to make a high D attainable. (I know, should have had Steve Kakos add just one more fret!) Other tricks include Nick Raths’ use of a felt pick to get just the right tremolo sound in Baba Yaga and Jeff Lambert’s suggestion to use the cello-style “thumb position” at times to avoid the excess finger noise caused by shifting on the over size sixth string. This version of “Pictures” is really a joint effort; on several occasions, a solution to some very sticky problem was discovered in rehearsal by one of my colleagues. Every member of the MGQ deserves credit for this arrangement. With this transcription, I may have somewhat exceeded the limits of what I would consider practical, but it sure is fun to play!
- Additional Information
Maker / Manufacturer MINNEAPOLIS GUITAR QUARTET Availability N/A Track 1 Windy (A. Piazzolla) Track 2 Tango para una Ciudad, Part 1 (A. Piazzolla) Track 3 Tango para una Ciudad, Part 2 (A. Piazzolla) Track 4 Eocacion (I. Albeniz) Track 5 El Puerto (I. Albeniz) Track 6 El Albaicin (I. Albeniz) Track 7 Promenade (M. Mussorgsky) Track 8 The Gnome (M. Mussorgsky) Track 9 Promenade (M. Mussorgsky) Track 10 The Old Castle (M. Mussorgsky) Track 11 Promenade (M. Mussorgsky) Track 12 Tuileries (M. Mussorgsky) Track 13 The Ox Cart (M. Mussorgsky) Track 14 Promenade (M. Mussorgsky) Track 15 The Ballet of Unhatched Chicks (M. Mussorgsky) Track 16 Two Polish Jews... (M. Mussorgsky) Track 17 Promenade (M. Mussorgsky) Track 18 The Marketplace (M. Mussorgsky) Track 19 The Catacombs of Paris (M. Mussorgsky) Track 20 With the Dead in a Dead Language (M. Mussorgsky) Track 21 The Hut on Hen's Feet (M. Mussorgsky) Track 22 The Great Gate of Kiev (M. Mussorgsky)
"Honestly, this is the best arrangement of these 16 movements (Mussorgsky) I have heard. While staying true to the original sense of the pieces, the Quartet brings fresh colors and lyricism. Their sense of tempo is always spot on, and their refined musicianship leave you eagerly awaiting the next measure." - Kirk Albrecht, Minor 7
"...musically absorbing and technically ingenious (Mussorgsky). The other transcriptions are superb. The three movements from Albeniz's 'Iberia' are richly detailed and fantastically played. The Piazzolla tangos are riveting. The sound is first rate, with an effective spatial distribution of the four guitars." - Rings, American Record Guide
"With this recording, the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet has cemented its stature as one of the guitar world's foremost ensembles." - James Reid, Soundboard Magazine
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