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Gerard Cousins

Gerard Cousins is a young guitarist whose name will already be familiar to many Classical Guitar magazine readers and UK guitar society members. A multi-international prize winner, Gerard studied music at the University of Leeds under the tutelage of Segovia expert, Graham Wade. He recently made his debut performance at the Purcell Room on London's South Bank, leading the musical journal, Musical Opinion to commend him on his "beautiful playing and subtle phrasing."

We recently reviewed three of Gerard's recent guitar releases, "Hiraeth", "Una Leyenda" and a "Gift" and you can read the reviews in full here.

Hiraeth

For his latest recording, "Hiraeth", Gerard draws exclusively on the rich musical heritage of his Welsh homeland. The result is a stunningly unique and rewarding recording, featuring traditional and centuries old pieces alongside more modern, 20th century repertoire.The release is fittingly concluded by one of Cousins' own works, Teifi's Dream, written in anticipation of the birth of his sister's first son.

In addition to being a first rate classical guitar player and composer, Gerard also shows his considerable worth as an arranger. No less than 6 of the 11 pieces on this recording having been arranged by him. The recording opens with "Tros y Garreg" or Crossing the stone and  recounts the story of a warrior returning home after battle. Arriving home, he imagines all of the memories the old stone carries from centuries of war and love. The conflicting contrasts of the happiness of returning home with the melancholic memories of lost friends and comrades, are expertly captured here through Gerard’s highly lyrical and sensitive playing.

Three traditional Welsh hymns, songs and tunes then follow. The first of these is "Gwahoddiad", a favourite Welsh hymn sung by male voice choirs throughout Wales. The hymn was famously recorded by Cerys Matthews, given a country and western flavour and titled Arglwydd Dyma Fi (Lord here I am). It was from this version that Gerard drew the inspiration to arrange this hymn for guitar.

The second of these is, "Ar Lan y mor" (Down by the Sea) a favourite Welsh love song. Arranged by Gerard himself, around a fantasia works well , evoking the spirit and sound of the sea and the waves.

The third is  "Dafydd a Garreg Wen" (David of the White Rock), a very popular Welsh tune which first appeared in Edward Jones’s book Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards (1784). It is attributed to the blind harpist Dafydd Owen who on composed this haunting air whilst on his deathbed.

"Hiraeth", from which this release takes its name, displays conflicting emotions simultaneously.  The mixture of major and minor chords leave the listener in a state of concurrent happiness and sadness. The melody and accompaniment combine to produce a almost ebb-like sense of yearning, of longing, of ‘Hiraeth’. The piece itself is short and is yet so concentrated, overflowing with music. This is in many ways to Welsh music as "Duende" is to Spanish flamenco tradition.

Robert Smith was an organist and lecturer in the University of Bangor, specialising in baroque and renaissance music. He was commissioned by the Welsh guitarist Colin Tommis and wrote Two pieces for guitar, each a portrait of his grand-children. "Amanda’s Delight" is a distinctive mix of contrasting jazz and baroque influences which the composer describes as a ‘terse sonata-rondo’.  Again this is expertly brought to life by Gerard in this release.

Thomas Tomkins was born in St David’s in 1572 and soon became a chorister at the Cathedral where his father was Master of the Choristers and Organ-player. His great talent for composition and his prowess at the keyboard took him to the very heights of musical life, being appointed one of the Chapel Royal organists and composing music for Charles I’s coronation in 1625. He spent 50 years of his long life as organist of Worcester Cathedral although he always kept in touch with the musical affairs in the capital. He wrote much choral music, madrigals and instrumental works for viols and the keyboard. "A Short Verse for Edward Thornburgh" is a virginal piece, and composed by Thomas Tomlins over 350 years ago.  Tomlins was even appointed one of royal organists and was even commissioned to write music for Charles I's coronation of 1625.

Written in 1649,  his "A Sad Pavan for these Distracted Tymes" forms the basis of Welsh born composer's, Hilary Tann's work  "Sad Pavan Forbidding Mourning". Three large quotes marked ‘with grief’ ‘with resignation’ and finally ‘with hope’ show us the journey that this highly charged and original guitar piece pursues.

The following piece "Olwyn Ddwr" (Water Wheel) by Gareth Glyn (b. 1951) is taken from a virtuosic suite of Harp pieces entitled Chwarae Plant (Child’s play). By no means ‘child’s play’ to perform, the pieces were inspired by Tecwyn Vaughan Jones’ book about Welsh playthings of long ago, Teganau Gwerin Cymru. Olwyn Ddwr is a paper propeller with a twig axle that when placed in a stream rotates in the current, though as the music depicts its spinning was never quite regular.

"Crossing Water Alone" forms the penultimate piece of this fantastic recording. Composed by Simon Thorne originally from Devon but now residing in Cardiff as  active as a composer, improvising musician and theatre artist. The piece was originally written for the cello and involved much thought when arranging it for the guitar as the physical act of performing the piece was integral to the music’s meaning. The problems were solved by retuning the guitar strings in imitation of the cello. The material of the piece plays with the possibility of three kinds of sound event: notes produced by the normal pushing down of the strings against the fingerboard, notes produced by lightly touching the strings to produce harmonics and no sound at all - silence. As the music progresses and the fingers become lighter on the strings, notes change into harmonics and a subtle choreography emerges that according to the composer ‘reveals the interior life of strings.’

"Teifei's Dream" then brings this great release to a fitting close.

So what’s our overall verdict on this new release? Well, quite simply, this is a first rate recording from a fine player, arranger and composer with an extremely bright future.

Not to be missed…

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Una Leyenda

Gerard Cousins Leyenda CDThis is an extremely well-executed all Spanish offering, featuring 2 extended works, Federico Moreno Torroba's three part Sonatina and Antonio Jose's four part Sonata.

The playing of both these works really helps to differentiate this recording from those of so many other players, who treat both works as pure speed and agility tests. What is immediately noticeable, right from the opening bars of the first movement of the Sonatina, is how Gerard lets the phrases really "breathe"- a testament to his musical and technical ability.

The natural momentum of both the Torroba and Jose works is similarly retained through out through Gerard's ability to realise a great array of expressive and dynamic range within his playing.

Naturally, it's these features which really characterise his playing throughout this release.

The recording also features a world premiere by Pedro Sanjuan, a recent discovery from the archive of Andres Segovia. Written in 1923, but never performed by Segovia, Gerard's playing really elicits the warm tones such a piece written in the Spanish romantic style requires.

Two works by Joaquin Rodrigo also feature on this release. Rodrigo was a renowned pianist composer who lost his sight from an early age following a bout of diptheria. The expressive flamenco style playing demanded by Rodrigo's "Tiento Antiguo" is extremely well played, including the swathes of rolling arpeggios and fast scales which Gerard executes with great facility. The second piece, "Un tiempo fue Italica Famosa", tells the story of the rise and fall of the once great Roman city of Italica, situated near modern day Seville in Andalucia. Written in 1980, towards the end of Rodrigo's life, this is a demanding piece in terms of mood changes and technical demands made of the player. Gerard delivers in every respect, from the initial mysterious and virtuosic flamenco passages through to a bright and cheerful Sevillianas before returning to the opening mysterious style of the piece as its conclusion.

Other works on this CD include Francisco Tarrega's "Capricho Arabe "as well as three relatively short pieces (El Testament d'Amelia, Canco de Lladre and El noi de la mare) by Miguel Llobet, himself a pupil of Tarrega. All this is appropriately rounded off with "Romance de los pinos", a work taken from Torroba's collection of works entitled "Castles of Spain". From the bell-like clarity of the artificial harmonics in "Canco de Lladre" through to sprightly Torroba work which brings the recording to a fitting close, Gerard's ability to sustain a clarity of melodic line is strongly evident throughout.

Overall this recording achieves a great "live" like quality and avoids the over-editing and artificially-sounding nature of many releases on the market today. It's very easy to imagine what it would be like to hear this player play live. This recording should therefore encourage those who've yet to do so to checking out his concert schedule for future opportunities to do so.

A great recording which comes highly recommended from all of us at Classical Guitar News!

For more details of how to obtain a copy of this release, please see the details at the bottom of this page.

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A Gift

Gerard Cousins CD "A Gift"The second of reviews focus on a completely different offering in terms of style and scope and is entitled "A Gift". With this second release, Gerard really exploits the classical guitar's sonority to full effect and truly establishes himself as one of the rising young British classical guitarists around today.

This CD features no less than 4 world premier recordings, including a unique opportunity to hear the music of leading British composer Mark Anthony Turnage, alongside the rarely performed "Chant" for guitar by Sir John Tavener. It's Turnage's "Tune for Toru" which actually brings this release to a fitting conclusion, creating a quiet and "dreamlike" end to this substantial contemporary recording.

The release itself takes its name from the last piece ever written by the composer and jazz musician before his premature death in 2005. This is a particularly potent piece in which really shows off this guitarist's ability to make the switch between different compositional styles (Miles Davies harmonies moving into neo-Baroque ground bass for example) and constantly changing time signatures with ease.

Leo Brouwer features twice here. The first of his two works is "Viaje a la Semilla". Written in 2000, this piece is an autobiographic composition, depicting Brouwer's life to date, but in reverse. Gerard really captures the hypnotic patterns demanded of this piece extremely well. His playing really serves to reinforce the reasons why Brouwer is one of the classical guitar's most popular composers around today. The second Brouwer piece selected by Gerard, is "Hika in Memorium Toru Takemitsu" in which the player captures a the fantastic sonority of the piece through his fine touch and phrase work, all aided by a unique re-tuning of the guitar.

The recording also features 2 works by Takashi Yoshimatsu as well as 2 compositions by Gerard Cousins himself, called "Elystan" and "July 18". "Elystan" is a reference to a standing stone (Elystan meaning "Noble Stone") which has stood the endurance of time. The second piece, "July 18th", takes its name from his mother's birth date and was composed after the North Sea Jazz festival. Having attended the festival, Gerard was inspired to write a piece using less conventional time signatures and pulses to great an amazing jazz-inspired feel to piece.

Takashi Yoshimatsu is a natural successor to Toru Takemitsu in terms of being Japan's most eminent living contemporary composer. His 3 part composition "Wind Color Vector", is part of wider sonata dedicated to the earth's natural elements, Wind, Water and Sky and draws heavily on Yoshimatsu's scientific influences. The desired effect is intriguing and again very well conveyed by the player, who really re-creates Yoshimatsu's desired effect of the strings sounding like they've been set in motion by the "breeze". "Canticle" is the second of two offerings by Yoshimatsu and focuses on the Earth (Canticle is taken from a wider composition entitled "Around the Round Ground", where ground refers to the Earth itself). Windchime and bell effects are expertly woven into this piece providing a religious dimension to the piece.

In essence, this is an extremely interesting and well-executed release and highly recommended. It should appeal particularly to those seeking out more contemporary style works as are all expertly constructed and extremely well played here.

For more details of how to obtain a copy of this release, please see below.

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