Many musicians labor tirelessly sometimes just on the edge of visibility giving their best regardless of whether or not they are publicly recognized outside of a relatively small select audience. Such is the case with Frederic Hand (1947- ), a guitarist and composer who studied with Julian Bream and who works with a wide variety of musicians and performs as soloist and guest artist in a steady touring schedule. He is on faculty at SUNY Purchase as well as Bennington and Mannes (where he studied). Hand is also known for his compositions for film and television but it is his role as official guitarist of the Metropolitan Opera that most seems to inform this album.
As is sometimes my practice I put this CD on in the background whilst tackling other chores. At first I thought I was hearing some obscure but highly entertaining music by composers unknown to me. As it turns out all but one composition here are by the artist. This delightful collection of pieces reflect the artist’s deep knowledge of the guitar literature, especially that of the 18th, 19th and early 20 centuries. They also reflect the musician’s intimate acquaintance with his instrument.
The musical language here is conservative classical/romantic basically, very listenable. No apologies need be made for this, rather this is the very essence of this album. Hand’s transcriptions of folk songs and original compositions embody a sort of troubadour spirit. One can visualize him playing in some intimate setting or perhaps onstage as a small part of a huge opera production. In either scenario the artist succeeds very well in communicating with his audience and that is the point.
I have listened to this album many times over and find it endlessly entertaining. There are 12 tracks, ten are for solo guitar, one for flute and guitar and one for two guitars. Only the last, the Dance of the Blessed Spirits, is related to opera and is the only truly non-original composition. The rest are transcriptions, interpretations of folk songs or original compositions. Hand has published quite a few compositions.
The first track, Cantiga de Santa Maria is a song transcription that clearly demonstrates the composer’s mastery of the guitar idiom. It sounds like it is as much fun to play as it is to hear.
Prayer, the second track, is an original composition written initially for two guitars and, by some magic, transcribed for a single guitar.
The next four tracks are transcriptions of Four Sephardic Songs. As with a previously reviewed recording (here), Hand mines the rich trove of late Renaissance songs of this nearly forgotten Spanish/Jewish culture.
The Water is Wide is the composer’s transcription (with a partly improvised middle section) of a Scottish folk song.
The album’s title track, Odyssey, is another piece for guitar duo. This time we get to hear the duo version with the assist of guest artist David Leisner. Written for a guitar festival in Crete, this is one of the albums most substantial and deeply felt works.
Sophia’s Journey is the composer’s tribute to his granddaughter. It is another example of his ability to write a great piece of music in a very approachable and satisfying compositional medium.
For Julian is the artist’s tribute to his teacher Julian Bream. It is this reviewer’s favorite track and one which properly pays homage to Hand’s wonderful teacher.
A Psalm of Thanksgiving enlists the services of Jayna Nelson on flute in this lovely meditation on the 100th Psalm.
Finally there is the transcription of Gluck’s Ballet and Dance of the Blessed Spirits. This popular excerpt from his opera Orfeo ed Euridice (1762) is, in a way, the composer’s tribute to this work and his own role as troubadour of the stage.
All in all a lovely collection that will continue to find its way to my CD player.