Leaving aside Jürg Frey's impressive contributions as a clarinetist, this two-CD set joins an already impressive list of Another Timbre releases featuring Frey as composer; these include Circles and Landscapes (2015), six solo piano pieces played by Philip Thomas, Grizzana and other pieces 2009-2014 (2015), a double CD of Frey compositions played by his own Ensemble Grizzana, and Wandelweiser Und So Weite ( 2012), the six-disc set featuring composers in and around the Wandelweiser collective that included three Frey pieces.
Now, as its title hints, Guitarist, Alone features Chilean guitarist Cristián Alvear playing Frey compositions for guitar, unaccompanied. Since 2013, Alvear has built up a comparatively small but high quality discography, dominated by solo guitar performances, with his album of Michael Pisaro pieces, Melody, Silence (Potlatch, 2015), being a particular highlight. Pisaro, like Frey, is a Wandelweiser member, and Alvear's playing is well suited to the style of the group's compositions. He never sounds rushed and allows every note to resound and decay naturally, seeming to savour each one. In other words, he gives the music space to live and breathe.
Guitarist, Alone is jointly released on Another Timbre and Cathnor (as was the 2010 release Dying Sun by Looper) owing to the fact that it was Cathnor proprietor Richard Pinnell whohaving reviewed Alvear's fine recording of Wandelweiser founder Antoine Beuger's 24 petits préludes pour la guitareinitially contacted Alvear to ask him if he would be interested in recording Frey's guitar music. Alvear accepted and set about the task. The process took eighteen months, including sending regular demos across the Atlantic to Frey and recording after he had commented. Along the way, Alvear had to develop a series of technical approaches that he had not previously used, such as how to move and lift his fingers over the fingerboard without making any noise. All of that effort was worthwhile as Alvear's playing is exemplary throughout and it is practically impossible to think how his versions of Frey's compositions could be bettered.
The album's two discs are very different. The first one consists of fifty alphabetically-titled pieces that vary greatly in length with nineteen of them being shorter than a minute, the shortest being just thirteen seconds long (altogether, six notes are played in it), and only four exceeding three minutes, the longest by some distance lasting seven minutes fifty seconds. Together the fifty pieces bear the title "50 Sächelchen" and play continuously. Frey's writing style gives the pieces similar tempos and dynamics, with the transition from one piece to the next never being too obvious or intrusive, the silences between tracks being comparable to the brief ones within pieces. Consequently, the fifty can be listened to as a unified whole with a consistently tranquil, soothing mood.
The second disc is in marked contrast to the first in that its seventy-three minutes only consist of three compositions, "Relikt" and "Wen 23"both previously self-released in 2013 by Alvear (see the YouTube clip of "Relikt," below)plus the title piece "Guitarist, Alone," especially written by Frey for this album. Lasting about nine minutes, half-an-hour and thirty-three minutes respectively, the three pieces create the same mood as the first disc, but are very different in character to one another. In particular, "Wen 23" is an extremely sparse piece even by Wandelweiser standards, punctuating occasional oases of music with many extended silences; listened to as a whole, it can be easy to forget that it is a continuous piece and not a collection of shorter ones as on the first disc. Despite being over three times the length of "Relikt," "Wen 23" seems to contain far less music. It is overshadowed by the extended title track that ends the album and is its undoubted highlight.
Taken as a whole, Guitarist, Alone is a positive addition to the discographies of Frey, Alvear and Another Timbre, and is highly recommended to admirers of any of those three.
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