Sarasate and Paganini. © 2020 OUR Recordings

CD Spotlight

Revisiting the Close Bond of Violin and Guitar

Kim Sjøgren and Lars Hannibal play music by Paganini and Sarasate, heard by ONA JARMALAVIČIŪTĖ

'... very elegant, vibrant, virtuosic and illustrative.'


That pair of siblings from the string family - violin and guitar - seems inseparable yet unusual together, each of them taking on individual lanes of the classical music repertoire. To revisit their shared roots of Spanish and Italian music traditions and to resurrect their joint Romantic repertoire was the journey behind this new CD of duets by two highly respected Danish classical musicians - violinist Kim Sjøgren and guitarist Lars Hannibal. Here they both unify the creative heritage of the most prominent violin and guitar figures from the past - culture shaping and instrument re-defying musicians Niccolò Paganini and Pablo de Sarasate. While stripping their traditional pieces to the intimate instrumentation of only two string instruments, this recording works as a time machine, bringing today's audience back to the roots of Spanish, Gypsy and Italian music traditions. In this shared way, its role in shaping the violin and guitar instruments is crystalized and relived.

It comes as no surprise that the composers celebrated on this CD are the fathers of both violin and guitar virtuosity. Even though Spanish traditional music crowns the guitar as its king of musical instruments, violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate changed the scene by merging the guitar accompaniment with the solo violin in his compositions. Based on Spanish folk music - gypsy tunes, Flamenco and other dances, Sarasate's classical pieces delve deep into the shared roots of the traditional ties between violin and guitar. Another legendary Italian virtuoso Niccolò Paganini was also known for his deep fondness for both of these instruments. Being known as a one of a kind violinist, he also composed over a hundred pieces for guitar solo. He also played guitar, while trying out new musical ideas and playing techniques that he later on adapted for violin. This twofold interest has accelerated the evolution of both instruments. It feels only natural that the recording, exploring the tradition of violin and guitar duets, is based on the shared treasures of Sarasate and Paganini.

Both are considered the most celebrated virtuosi of their time, redefying the instruments, setting new standards of playing and changing the pace of classical music tradition. It all feels like a huge weight on the shoulders for the Danish duet Sjøgren and Hannibal to lift a few centuries later. But the musicians behind the recording do not lack experience or substance in their playing, having linked their entire lives, fast paced careers and numerous CD releases, with the celebration of such a tradition of music. Violinist Kim Sjøgren entered the Royal Danish Academy at twelve years old and ten years later he had become the youngest concertmaster in the history of the Royal Danish Orchestra. On the side, he is also a composer of music for film, TV and theater, a founder of The Little Mermaid Orchestra, a professor at The Danish Royal Academy of Music, a classical soloist and a stand-up entertainer. His duet counterpart is Danish guitarist Lars Hannibal who, after studies at Aarhus Conservatory and The Hague with Toyohiko Satoh, has become a teacher, as well as a performer, sharing the stage with such musicians as trumpeter Michael Brydenfelt, recorder player Michala Petri and Chinese violinist Tina Chen Yi. Together, guitarist Lars Hannibal and violinist Kim Sjøgren share a long-lasting bond, since theirduet was founded way back in the year 1980. Throughout all the years of playing together, they have held more than a thousand concerts in Denmark and Europe, bringing a fresh approach to the standard classical repertoire.

Listen — Sarasate, arranged by Hannibal: Allegro moderato (Carmen Fantasia)
(track 5, 0:00-0:53) ℗ 2020 OUR Recordings :

Their connection and intimate understanding of each other's playing can be heard throughout their newest CD, where they revisit the tradition of chrestomathic pieces in classical violin repertoire by Sarasate and Paganini, stripping the better known orchestral accompaniments for original chamber performances with only violin and guitar. In this way, the colorful stage spectacle of violin virtuosity and richness of tutti orchestral mastery here is morphing into the sincere conversation of two instruments. Violin and guitar here are sharing their memories and longing for the past as they tell a tale of original Spanish and Italian string music traditions.

Listen — Sarasate, arranged by Hannibal: Moderato (Zigeunerweisen)
(track 6, 0:00-0:59) ℗ 2020 OUR Recordings :

This change in instrumentation alternates the experience of listening to these pieces in both good and bad ways. Since the violin is soloing in most of the compositions, the inequality of parts is felt even more as the guitar is only an accompaniment and can't provide such a strong background backbone for the soloist as a full symphony orchestra. In this case during the recording, violinist Kim Sjøgren's playing often overshadows the dry sound of Lars Hannibal's guitar. Because of the similarity between the two instruments, their sound doesn't supplement or enrich each other very much. Therefore such minimalistic texture can't provide the intensity, passion and expressiveness of the Spanish music tradition and fundamentally feels more tuned down. On a positive note, one can truly feel that respect to the past and tradition is paid with this instrumentation. The duet brings every listener closer to the roots of Spanish, Gypsy and other south European sounds. Such a truthful interpretation also brings out the original liveness and richness of Sarasate and Paganini's originally composed music. The CD still sounds very elegant, vibrant, virtuosic and illustrative. Even though idealized and stylized, it is still a representation of the Romantic Spanish and Italian musical world.

Listen — Niccolò Paganini: Moses Fantasia on the G string
(track 13, 6:30-7:25) ℗ 2020 OUR Recordings :

Therefore the impact of such sound is, even though different, no less effective. And an initiative of Kim Sjøgren and Lars Hannibal to channel the shared heritage of violin and guitar feels like a beautiful bowing down to the past and a celebration of the people who made these instruments what they are today. Such a look back is also asking for a respectful continuation of this tradition further down the road into the future.

Copyright © 22 November 2020 Ona Jarmalavičiūtė,
London UK









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