“Although he did not hold grudges against instruments, the standard classical guitar was not one of Lou Harrison's favorites, although he had used it effectively as early as 1942 in his classic percussion piece Canticle No. 3. Its system of fixed frets indivisibly wedded it to equal temperament, a compromise of tuning that Harrison -- and many others -- regarded as a conspiracy on the part of the West to deprive music of its depth of color. In 1977, guitarist Tom Stone designed a guitar with removable frets and contacted Harrison, who excitedly launched a series of suites for the new instrument. By 1978, the pressures of external commissions and Harrison's need to compose music for his gamelan orchestra sidelined these projects; however, guitarist John Schneider volunteered to facilitate them according to Harrison's plan, using the music already composed and selecting pieces from Harrison's works for other instruments. Schneider completed his work just before Harrison died in 2002, and mode records has recorded this important cycle of pieces with Schneider inside the specially built, environmentally sensitive straw bale house Harrison designed and lived in just before his death. Por Gitaro -- the title given in Harrison's favored language of Esperanto -- is the result, featuring Schneider in a loving and dedicated performance of the five suites Harrison authorized, plus an arrangement of the piece In Honor of the Divine Mr. Handel (1991) that adds the HMC American Gamelan under Bill Alves. Also included is an informative three-and-a-half-minute conversation recorded between Harrison and Schneider in 1981, in which Harrison comments "it is agreeable to me to have my music arranged."
Schneider utilizes a standard guitar with refitted frets for most of the performances; however, he also employs a National Steel Guitar for one suite, and its slightly nasal tone adds a special bite to Harrison's preferred temperaments. The interior of the straw bale house also contributes a warm and earthy ambience to the proceedings, though it is used only in the solo works; the guitar and gamelan piece was recorded at Pomona College. If one has little or no familiarity with Harrison's compositions, this is a wonderful sample; the compass of movements making up these suites range from Harrison's entire compositional career, from 1934 to 2002. Schneider's playing is skillful and sensitive, and he is an effective interpreter of Harrison, who, in his mature music, emphasized clarity of texture, tonal color, and melodicity over almost all other considerations. This has led many academics and "serious" scholars to dismiss Harrison's music, though there is no denying its immediate appeal, communicativeness, and vaguely spiritual properties. In Schneider's capable hands, both the "serious" and "smiling" aspects of Harrison's music come to the fore; Por Gitaro is a beautiful recording and is definitive in regards to the literature included.”
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