Thursday, July 19, 2018

Marcin Dylla and the Guitar

I know that I have been posting less frequently lately, just two or three a week instead of the daily posts I usually try and keep to. Apologies! One of the reasons is that I have been playing more regularly. I have actually managed to put practice time in on the instrument every day for more than a week now. Yes, I know that doesn't sound like much! When I was a full-time professional guitarist I would practice around four hours a day and spend another four or five hours teaching which also involved some playing. In recent years, I have been lucky to get more than two or three hours in in a whole week. Not good. Mind you, I have lots of other things to do. But if you play infrequently, as I have been, it never feels good when you do play, which discourages you. So getting into a more regular schedule has been productive and my hands are starting to feel much more capable and responsive.

I also ran across a very fine guitarist on YouTube the other day, Marcin Dylla, who is from Poland. His Wikipedia entry merely lists his teachers (one of whom, Oscar Ghiglia, we shared) and a long list of competitions he has won. When I was doing my list of the top ten classical guitar pieces, I recall searching without success for a good clip of the Ponce Folias variations. Well, that is no longer a problem as Marcin Dylla has done an excellent version:

He is a very muscular guitarist, with an impeccable technique. He has an excellent tone and good dynamic range. Sometimes I wish he had just a bit more refinement in the details, but that is just a quibble. He is very listenable and musical. I am sad to say that I find most guitarists these days pretty much unlistenable, but not Dylla. Here he is with a very fine performance of the Five Preludes by Villa-Lobos:

Here he is with the Sonata romantica by Ponce:

He is obviously of the serious artist school of guitar playing, not the glitzy it-is-all-about-the-marketing school that seems to be dominant in recent years. He only seems to have a couple of discs available:

I like his repertoire, which focuses on the big pieces. In fact, I am thinking of re-doing my top ten list, which continues to get a lot of attention. I am thinking of refining it into three lists:
  • Top Ten Large Pieces for Classical Guitar which will include things like the Ponce Variations, the Britten Nocturnal, the Ginastera Sonata, the Castelnuovo-Tedesco Sonata and the Invocation and Dance by Rodrigo
  • Top Ten Shorter Pieces for Classical Guitar which will include the Nocturnal by Moreno Torroba, Elogio de la Danza by Brouwer, En los trigales by Rodrigo, La Catedral by Barrios, the Fandanguillo by Turina and the Capricho árabe and Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Tárrega
  • Top Ten Transcriptions for Classical Guitar which is where I will put pieces like the Bach Chaconne, Asturias and Granada by Albéniz, Valses poéticos by Granados and pieces for lute and vihuela commonly played on guitar
Any comments? Does that sound like a good idea?


Steven Watson said...

I must say I am always left painfully tantalised by your playful habit of making a very interesting statement, usually in isolation, and often controversial, and then moving onto another point entirely. So could you elaborate on what you mean when you say, 'I am sad to say that I find most guitarists these days pretty much unlistenable'?

The lists sounds like an excellent idea by the way.

Bryan Townsend said...

That must be a strategy, even if unconscious!

I don't talk about guitarists a lot because that was the entire focus of my interest and career for thirty-some years. So at this point I find pianists, violinists and orchestras more interesting. But when I sit down to listen to guitarists I find an awful lot of them to be painfully mediocre. I suppose they always were, but when I was a young, aspiring guitarist they all seemed so gifted and virtuoso to my ears. These days, since I spend most of my time listening to pianists, string quartets and orchestras, the musical abilities of most guitarists seem rather ordinary. Some of the big names, like Sharon Isbin and Eliot Fisk, I find very flawed indeed. I have written posts on them:

Patrick said...

Bryan - Just wanted to thank you so much for your musical selections. Listening to (classical) acoustic solo guitar is such balm on the craziness and noise that is the world today.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Patrick! The classical guitar has some qualities that you cannot find anywhere else.

Steven Watson said...

Very interesting, thank you. I had not heard of Eliot Fisk, and every video I found of him playing was -- well there really is no other word for it -- unlistenable. As a listener, I'm quite tolerant of mistakes, but there are mistakes which are aberrations and there are mistakes that are inherent, that result from poor musical understanding. I do recall a lute recital where there was more buzzing and dead notes than is comfortable, but the right notes were so wonderful that I was willing to forgive the rest.

I vaguely recall watching on youtube a masterclass Sharon Isbin gave. The student was playing a prelude from one of the Bach lute suites, and she told the student to emphasise the downbeat, that that was the 'authentic' way to play it. I've no idea if that's true, but I'm learning the 997 prelude now, and to my ear it needs a pretty light touch.

Bryan Townsend said...

Steven, I think that you have just demonstrated that you have a deeper musical understanding than Sharon Isbin. She certainly plays as if she thinks that emphasizing downbeats is the "authentic" way to play Bach. For an interesting perspective on the use and mis-use of the word "authenticity" you might have a look at some of the writings of Richard Taruskin. Here is an example:

"Authentic" is often just used as a kind of a blunt instrument to beat up someone. I'm authentic and you're an idiot! Yes, by all means, play the BWV 997 prelude with a light touch, but pay attention to which notes are dissonant lower neighbors and how they resolve into the harmonic tone. Those are the notes to emphasize!

Steven Watson said...

I appreciate the advice. And thanks for the essay link; I'm pretty sure I've read it before, or something similar by Taruskin, but thoroughly enjoyed rereading it.

Bryan Townsend said...

I often have to read Taruskin a couple of times!