Texas Guitar Quartet: Red

The Texas Guitar Quartet has released their long awaited debut recording today. It is entitled Red after a three movement work of the same name from TxGQ member/composer Joe Williams. The album features music from J.S. BachAntoine de Lhoyer, L.V. Beethoven,  Issac Albeniz, and Joe Williams. Red is a remarkable new achievement in the world of classical guitar. The musicality is refined, their tone is rich, full, and pliable to their desires, and the repertoire is multi-faceted and unique unto the quartet.

The album opens with J.S. Bach's 3rd Brandenburg Concerto BWV 1048 (circa 1721). The Brandenburg Concertos were a set of six works from the Baroque era and represent a landmark for Bach's compositional legacy. While they were certainly not intended for guitar quartet, the music has found a new home in the very capable hands of the Texas Guitar Quartet. Aside from it's compositional beauty, the music of Bach is noted for its malleability. It seems that Bach's music has survived history in part because it is easy to adapt this music to many different mediums and retain its original beauty. The guitar has long been one of the primary beneficiaries of Bach's adaptable music. 

What I enjoy so much about this performance is that the musicians do a wonderful job balancing the interest of each melodic line without becoming convoluted. At anyone time the listener can choose which layer of the music to pay attention to and will find that it is thought-provoking and musical at every level. I love the care and careful shaping that is involved in music like this. Not a single note made it to the paper without proper consideration, and likewise not a single note leaves the hands of the performers without similar scrutiny. 

The second movement of this work consists of a one measure Phrygian Cadence. It's compositional brevity is probably a result of Bach's masterful improvisation skills, but today it is often treated more like a musical semicolon than a license to perform an ad hoc cadenza. For my taste, I adore this small gesture on the album and suggest that you listen to this track first and then double back for the entire work. Furthermore, you would be best served to use your headphones for maximum enjoyment. Their sound is tangible. I can smell the combination of wood and metal and I can feel their technique when I listen to this phrase. It is a truly unique and beautiful moment on the record and one I have cataloged in my mind against my entire classical guitar collection.

The album continues with two more unorthodox repertoire selections.  Antoine de Lhoyer's Air Varié et Dialogué, which is a world premier recording, as well as L.V. Beethoven's Egmont Overture opus 84. The Beethoven, like the Bach was absolutely not written for the guitar and only comes to us this way thanks to the ingenuity of the TxGQ. This piece was composed during the period of Beethoven's life in which the Napoleonic Wars were forcing prominent musicians to leave Vienna and a belligerent Beethoven to express his distaste through his compositions, Egmont included. As regular readers of the Dig know, I love connecting the dots between social and musical history. I also enjoy considering the notion that musical interpretations can express the political unrest felt by the composer and the TxGQ does a wonderful job articulating this narrative in the piece. The simple fact that this arrangement sounds natural and simply enjoyable is testament to their work as interpreters and arrangers.

In conjunction, the Antoine de Lhoyer piece contains it's own claim to music history. In addition to being a noted composer, Lhoyer's biography also included a lauded military career for the French empire. This makes for an interesting programming choice from the TxGQ in terms of political juxtaposition in contrast to the Beethoven. Additionally, this piece is perhaps the first example of composition for the medium of guitar quartet. In spite of this, it is a rather underrepresented piece of guitar literature. Maybe it's because the original composition called for a technical lopsidedness. This piece was written for the composer and three of his students, and the difficulty was not evenly distributed across the parts. This arrangement was assembled by Mitch Weverka and takes care to more evenly distribute the virtuosity across the quartet. 

The final three works on the album comprise a piece entitled Red. It is a work by TxGQ member Joe Williams from 2011, and deals with different perspectives on life and death. The movements are entitled Try Not To Die, Birth Day, and Cells Making Cells. In his own words,

Try not to die is the most complex and varied movement and abstractly depicts the myriad qualities of an individual's life. At the core of our existence, beyond daily experience (such as work, having sex, reading books, wine, traffic, advertisements, success, failure, the internet, backflips…) we manage to live despite certain death. The second movement is dedicated to the birth of my niece, Juliana Williams. It explores the innocence of a newborn, the imposing task set before each parent, and the simultaneous bewildering and joyful uncertainty of a Birth day. The final movement is life from the perspective of microbiology. At the smallest level, cells continue to make cells without regard for our hopes, dreams or desires. Fortunately, life continues at a cellular level long after our triumphs and failures in a raucous and swirling torrent of cellular growth.

I enjoy this composition for its imagery and for the quartets evocative and engaging performance. In Cells Making Cells the idea of microbiology is felt by the listener in the frantic asecnding figures and by the agitated perpetual motion aspect of this composition. Compositionally speaking, Red is a gem for guitar quartet. It is graphic, engrossing, and unlike its peers. I dig this work and look forward to it's development as it grows beyond this album and into the canon of guitar repertoire.

Red from the Texas Guitar Quartet is an enviable album with musicality and repertoire to sustain it's worth for years to come. This is an immensely satisfying listen and I would hope that you agree as well. I sincerely believe that quality of musicianship can speak beyond genre barriers and any musical predisposition. Furthermore, the quartet is only asking ten dollars for an album which they have poured their whole beings into and I for one cannot recommend the work highly enough. Please take advantage of this opportunity to diversify your itunes library and break out of the ordinary for an hour or so.  Red can be purchased here. You can also find the quartet via their Official Webpage, Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, Youtube, and Bandcamp to keep in touch.