Matthieu Jacquot – a Parisian classical guitarist and lutenist – is not yet an established name. On the basic of this EP he’s not only worth a listen, but worth some serious consideration.
‘Plucked String Instrument Recital’ may have been recorded, primarily, as a pitch for performance work. However, its unromantic (and borderline deconstructed) name and its discreet pushes at performance form reveals not just a skilled player but a thoughtful, analytical performer. Four different repertoire pieces, each by a different composer and arranged in chronological order (two Baroque, two on the cusp of Romanticism and modernism) allow Matthieu not to demonstrate his instrumental mastery of various eras, but also to investigate or imply connections between them.
The first of these, John Dowland’s Preludium (for Renaissance lute but performed here on archlute), is played straight. As a solo lutenist, Matthieu is graceful and expressive, but he’s also played blues, and some of that elastic stretch of time and expression seems to have made it into his classical playing style too, mingling with his sense of rubato. Tackling a second and subsequent Baroque piece (Gaspar Sanz’s Folias, one of the first iterations of one of the most lasting chord progressions of classical music), Matthieu swaps his archlute for classical guitar. Recorded a little more intimately – close enough to hear Matthieu’s breathing – it balances folky earnestness and a strong unhurried classical technique, with fine switches between fingerpicking and rasgueado strums,
It’s during the second half that things stay beautiful, but become a little more interesting. Take – as Matthieu has – Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie #1. Initially composed as a rebellion against Romanticism, it’s been transformed over the years (partially due to the curse of its pretty tune) into a mild-mannered and amiable carthorse. Innumerable interpretations bob across relaxation records. There are pop – or pop-tinged – covers by Sky, Blood Sweat & Tears and Gary Numan. It’s even become a concert apéritif for performances of the Romantic works it was supposed to be kicking against. Matthieu’s own version is ambivalent, but refreshing.
Classical guitar arrangements of the Gymnopédie are commonplace, but Matthieu has avoided standardisation by scoring it as a subtly overdubbed quartet version for himself – a bassline played on one guitar, melody on another, two more to handle the arcs of arpeggio and a second pass at the melody in deft harmonics. He also has no fear of stressing the incipient awkwardness which hovers behind the precise rhythms. In this version, you can hear the work of playing involved, without that taking anything away from his skill. In other hands, the additional swells of overdubbed gong he’s added would be a joke: a superficial New Age attempt to link Satie’s elegant economy of notes to a spurious Oriental tranquility. To be honest, Matthieu may have had a similar idea. However, he uses the gong as part of the ensemble: a piece of punctuation linked to the structuring of the music, a marker of key points. Instead of scenery, it links process and rituals: the musician’s shaping of phrases, the precise physical routines of Asian exercise and centering.
The last piece is the most ambitious. Le Gibet is the second of three demanding narrative pieces Maurice Ravel wrote as a suite for solo piano and called ‘Gaspard de la nuit’. In its original form, it’s bookended by two demanding and vigorous pieces of musical storytelling (both supernaturally themed, both cascading with notes and rhythms. By comparison, Le Gibet is a slice of static narrative, more of an illustration in music, complete with implications. The original scene, as set out by Ravel, is a desert view, a distant gallows in centre view, an equally distant city with the sound of a tolling bell rising from over the walls (the latter carried by an ominous pedal point ostinato).
Matthieu has arranged this as a duet between two guitars, making the most of both the music and the interplay between loss and gain due to the shift in instrumentation. Certainly, something is lost – the effects of the soft felt and pedal dynamics of the piano (so vital in adding the different colours, timbres and volume shifts of Romantic music) can’t be replicated on guitar, and some details fade. Instead, Matthieu’s approach dessicates the music into an additional desert toughness. The creaks of string noise and of shifting posture, the dry attack of the guitars and Matthieu’s plentiful use of harmonics – all of this takes away Ravel’s detailed coloration and turns his narrative into a sharp, leathery etching; a musical concentrate of the scene. It’s like someone reshooting a film along less forgiving, more minimal lines; or curing Ravel’s desert fantasy down to biltong.
Throughout, Matthieu draws implicit connections via his playing style; his sparse economy drawing a line between Satie’s proto-minimalism, Downland’s perfect miniature, the precise structure of the Folias and the concentration of his own arrangement of Ravel. Among the plucking, some enquiring tweaks.
Matthieu Jacquot: ‘Plucked String Instrument Recital’
Matthieu Jacquot (self-released)
Released: 21st August 2009
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