Liana Malandrenioti, music critic for the Athens newspaper Epoch, has filed this appreciation of the work of Delos recording artist Smaro Gregoriadou, including a review of her recent release A Healing Fire.
The presence of Smaro Gregoriadou in the contemporary classical music scene is in many ways precious; she appears as guitar soloist, composer, researcher, as well as having a definite contribution in supporting and showcasing Kertsopoulos Aesthetics. Her discography is based on the Kertsopoulos system and method, and constitutes a musical realization of this particular interpretive school. In her album debut in 2009, Gregoriadou introduced the term “Reinventing guitar,” offering works of Bach, Scarlatti, José, Kertsopoulos and her own, and featuring the first presentations to the world of Kertsopoulos Aesthetics. We were astonished back then by her innovative interpretive approach, which was based on a redefinition of the traditional repertoire.
In an interview that she gave to me in January 2010, I asked her about Kertsopoulos Aesthetics, and she said: “It is an innovative musical suggestion by the guitarist, researcher, guitar maker and writer of the Space-Time Theory, George Kertsopoulos, aiming to revive many of the guitar’s historical types that come from its distant past. The strings of new technology offer a huge range of timbre combinations and playing techniques (for approaches) that have become obsolete over time. Additionally, in response to the demanding requirements of contemporary repertory and concert halls, new ideas are given to guitarists in the field of guitar construction, like, for example, the pedal system for the reinforcement of the sound volume.”
All these have been and still remain for Gregoriadou a constant challenge to go more and more into depth, while her fruitful interaction with the standard guitar approach has determined her interpretive development and progress thus far. The term “reinvention” responds to this very need for a redefinition of the classical guitar sound and technique. The 2nd volume of her album series, “Reinventing Guitar II,” came in 2012 with works by Scarlatti, Bach and Handel. Gregoriadou has generated an enthusiastic response in Greece and worldwide for those CDs, both released by the American label Delos.
Her recent album, “A Healing Fire,” was released in 2020 (again by Delos) amidst the pandemic’s inauspicious conditions for all music professionals. It is her 4th CD for the label and it follows all of the previous three, “Reinventing Guitar!” (DE 3398), “Reinventing Guitar II” (DE 3419), and “El Aleph” (DE 3490) in its unparalleled quality and high standards.
In this new album, using exclusively Kertsopoulos’ instruments of unconventional construction and acoustics, Gregoriadou chooses to interpret works written by composers of different eras, one from the baroque and three from the 20th and 21st centuries. Two such guitars have been used. Their features include pedal mechanisms, new string materials and non-standard configurations. We hear a full, lucid sound throughout, and an interpretation that approaches perfection. All arrangements for the particular guitars were made by the soloist herself.
The interesting acoustic experience opens with an arrangement of the Violin Sonata II, in A minor, BWV 1003, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Gregoriadou interprets the work with reflection and clarity, proving that this innovative guitar approach permeates the baroque music with a particular charm. Then follows Νocturnal after John Dowland, Op. 70, by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), finished in 1963 for the great guitarist and lutist Julian Bream (1933-2020). Bream endowed the guitar repertory with many important works, and inspired many eminent composers of his time to write for it, in particular William Walton, Michael Tippett, Richard Rodney Bennett, Malcolm Arnold, Alan Rawsthorne, Lennox Berkeley, Hans Werner Henze, etc. Britten’s Nocturnal is based on the theme of the song Come, heavy Sleep, which belongs to the First Book of Songs or Ayres of Four Parts. It is a collection dating from 1597, with 21 songs for voice and lute, composed by the remarkable British or Irish Renaissance composer John Dowland (1563-1626). Gregoriadou transmits to us the beauty, rhythm and harmony of the Nocturnal with subtle elegance.
I was delighted to see that the album’s program included the great contemporary Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina (b. 1931). She has composed four works for guitar that are only rarely played: Serenade (1960), Toccata (app. 1969), Repentance (2008) and Sotto Voce (2010, rev. 2013). In this album we hear the composer’s first and most youthful work, performed by Gregoriadou with tenderness and lyricism.
The album concludes with Suite pour Guitare, Op. 41, by the Canadian composer and academician Jacques Hétu (1938-2010). Hétu has written four works for guitar: Suite, Op. 41 (1986), Intermezzo, Op. 80 (2008), Concerto for Guitar and String Orchestra, Op. 56 (1994), and Concerto for Two Guitars and Orchestra, Op. 77 (2007). The Suite is an atmospheric composition, dreamy and serene, that Smaro Gregoriadou renders with delicate sensitivity. The album’s booklet notes contain much useful information about the composers, works and Kertsopoulos’ guitars.
This album (shows) that the difficult task of redefining the sound and technique of the classical guitar has brought admirably interesting results.
A disc for friends of the rare and amazing sounds offered us by the “reinvented” guitar.
Enjoy your listening!
—Liana Malandrenioti, Epoch