Thorsten Drücker / Rasmus Baumann

Gee's Bend: Gitarrenkonzerte des 20./21. Jahrhunderts

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Kudos are in order for the West German Radio Orchestra Cologne for putting together a program of three unusual guitar concertos of the 20th century, all written in different idioms but not so diverse that they don't hang together. The album takes its title from Michael Daugherty's concerto, which is for electric guitar and orchestra. German guitarist Thorsten Drücker makes the switch effortlessly from acoustic to electric, and this is an unusually effective example of this Michigan-based composer's eclectic style. Gee's Bend is an Alabama community that has long been home to a vital group of African-American quiltmakers, and Daugherty interprets quilt patterns musically in at least three ways: as stylistic patchwork, as abstract structure, and as influence from traditional African-American musical materials. Quoting "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" may seem old hat for an American composer, but check out the way Daugherty atomizes the tune in the finale for a totally fresh treatment. Perhaps the real find is Elmer Bernstein's concerto, written for a young Christopher Parkening. The requirements of guitar solos are very cleverly balanced against Bernstein's basically cinematic language. Malcolm Arnold's Guitar Concerto, Op. 67, was written in 1959 for Julian Bream, is a piece of jazz-inflected English neo-classicism, high-spirited and elegant. This is an enjoyable release from start to finish, completely giving the lie to the idea that a program of three unknown contemporary works is necessarily a snoozer. Although the title of the series from which this release is drawn is "WDR: The Cologne Broadcasts," this is a studio recording, and one with superb balances between the guitars and the orchestra.

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