Up in the attic full of forgotten
instruments, the arpeggione at least made it into the pages of history in the
scores of Franz Schubert,
practically the only composer who dedicated a piece to this cross between
guitar and viola da gamba invented by his fellow Vienna countryman and luthier Johann Georg Stauffer. In 2016, it would
only occur to someone like David Leisner
and his 'chamber' guitar to revive that sonata and dedicate his new album to
featuring that old school glory of the six strings. Helping him out was none
other than Zuill Bailey, possibly
the premiere cellist in the world.
Neither Leisner nor Bailey are a surprise. They are something special. On Arpeggione -as if there could be any other title for the disk- there is a lot more than just the ‘oddity’ of Sonata in A Minor D.821 composed for the instrument and piano during a cold, sad November in 1824. Leisner adapted the piano part to his guitar and obviously left the bow to his partner.
Behind the exquisite performance of Schubert's three movements hides another real delight: Manuel de Falla and his seven popular Spanish songs arranged by our pair of virtuosos into a more than memorable instrumental version.
As if that wasn't enough, Leisner adds one of his original compositions, Twilight Streams, that takes us into the realm of contemporary music. An intriguing piece he finally decided to record, but one where the guitar employs a code that escapes most mere mortals like us. Certainly, the people who enjoy it most have to be his students at the Manhattan School of Music and colleagues at Guitar Plus, a select New York club for chamber music lovers.
To return us to this side of the universe, the end brings us back to the soothing calmness of chamber music with adaptations of Leisner's much-admired Villa-Lobos, Paganini… All told, more than an hour of a voyage where the pleasure of listening is amplified by the pleasure of discovering once again the infinite possibilities of Guitars Exchange's favourite instrument.
Leisner and Bailey have created a masterpiece with Arpeggione -the critical response is unanimous on that- that reclaims the virtues of the ‘wood’ over the latest cutting edge materials and electronic alchemy. It's a real slap on the back and accolade for the guitar in the arduous terrain of 'serious' music -as if the other genres weren't tough enough. The six strings have spent too much time suffering from an inferiority complex in the realm of the piano and violin. Electricity opened up many doors, but also closed others like the attic of that Viennese luthier.
Like all the other candidates to swell the ranks of our chapter of legends, Leisner is also a living example of how to overcome the nightmare of every guitarist: musician's dystonia (focal dystonia), a neurological disease that takes control over your muscles, yet hardly anything is known about how that happens. He fell victim to the disease in 1984, when he was 30, and had it for 12 years, until he cured himself completely in 1996. He won his first major prize as an instrumentalist when he was 22, and also teaches the techniques to beat the illness today.