Review of Fernando Sor: Guitar Sonatas 
Oh, those tricky guitarists. For years we have been turning down requests to review guitar CDs, largely because there are way too many of them, most very good, all playing more or less the same stuff. Now let’s face it, the guitar is an extremely limited instrument, expressively speaking, and its repertoire contains very few masterpieces that bear comparison to the great works in other media. In this respect, it’s kind of like a bassoon or double bass, except that not everyone in the universe plays the bassoon or double bass, and makes recordings of same that they want to have reviewed.
So about a week ago, I got one of those dreaded pink slips in my mail box. The pink slip is the Postal Service’s way of telling you that they are holding a parcel or letter that requires a signature and needs to be picked up in person. Usually these are not good news: certified letters from the Internal Revenue Service telling you that you owe back taxes, legal letters from creditors, notices of foreclosure on your home–stuff like that. Going to the post office in Brooklyn also is an ordeal that can only be compared to dentistry without anesthesia, or that ultimate horror, a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew your driver’s license. You stand in line; maybe one window is open for business–the longer the line, the fewer the available windows–the employees move at a glacial pace. If they can find your parcel, it’s a miracle.
I arrived at 9:02 a.m., two minutes after opening. There was already a line. A single window was open. No one knew which end was the front of the line. I got lucky; I was at the front. However, I was not the first person through the door. At least three others got there several seconds before I did. The worker motioned me to come forward. Knowing my life was at stake, I graciously suggested that my predecessors go first. She told them to get back in line. They complained. “If you got a problem, you can talk to the manager,” she screamed. I mean really screamed. “Now give me your slip,” she ordered me. I gave it to her. She disappeared. Ten minutes later she reappeared with a tiny package. I had no idea what it was. She flipped it at me contemptuously, clearly annoyed at my having wasted her time making her search for such a trifle. I noticed only that it had come from Spain before I beat a hasty retreat home. When I opened it, this guitar CD was inside. I hadn’t asked for it. I have no idea how guitarist Ricardo Gallén got my address. But having taken my life into my hands to retrieve it, I vowed to at least listen to it and, possibly, review it. So here goes.
Sor wishfully calls three of the four works here “grand”. Guitar music is many things, but grand? Never. Most of the time this just means “long”, 27 minutes long in the case of the sonatas Opp. 22 and 25. Amazingly, though, this is very good music, and it’s extremely well played by Gallén. The Sonata Op. 25, which has four big movements (the first of them slow and brooding), manages to convey a remarkable degree of contrapuntal interest, and Gallén has the admirable ability to differentiate melody, accompaniment, and inner parts in such a way as to create layers of sonority that are consistently captivating.
In other words, the music has substance as well as plenty of virtuoso passage work, and the result is thoroughly enjoyable, although I wouldn’t recommend listening to all of it at a sitting. Substance, yes–that it has; variety, not so much. The Grand Sonata Op. 22 is less interesting taken as a (rather long) whole, though equally well played. The best place to start may well be the Grand Solo Op. 14, whose 10 minutes flash by in this winsome performance.
The SACD sonics have plenty of presence, and like most guitar solo discs capture lots of squeaky performance noises. I listened in regular stereo–no one needs to hear a lot of squeaky performance noises in surround sound. I know, it comes with the territory. Still, I found this quite enjoyable, and you probably will too. A word of warning to future artists though: this is the last time I will go to the post office to retrieve a CD. Do not send packages by registered mail. Life is too short.