Fleta v. Smallman PreviousNext
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Next message Jay posted on Friday, 09 September, 2005 - 04:29 pm
Anyone else think he sounded better before
he switched?
Next message Richard posted on Saturday, 10 September, 2005 - 12:33 pm
To be perfectly honest, I can't say that I can hear much difference. What differences I can hear (having compared pre-1981 recordings of the same pieces with those played on his Smallmans) are mroe to do with the performance than the instrument.

If there is a difference, I think it's more that JW seems to have found an instrument (or rather, a luthier) with which he feels particularly comfortable and it seems to have made him more relaxed.
Next message Tim posted on Monday, 19 September, 2005 - 12:11 am
Am I the only one who prefers the '77 Barrios to 'The Great Paraguayan'? The sound is sweeter, more intimate somehow. There's not really a lot of difference in performance (except Villancico de Navidad) though maybe the sound differences are more to do with recording venue and engineering than choice of instrument.
Next message Bill D posted on Monday, 19 September, 2005 - 02:06 pm
You hear things like that on (for example) some of the early Julian Bream recordings, where there is a definite room acoustic to be heard. Makes them sound a bit boxy but also intimate.

Modern recordings often use very close miking and a studio that is as near anechoic as possible, but that can make them a bit dry. Effects, such as reverb or echo, to give a little ambience, are added artificially later.

Close multi-miking can have unfortunate side effects. On some of my CDs, you can hear clarinet keys clattering or the rustle of sleeves on guitar sound boxes.
Next message Tim posted on Monday, 19 September, 2005 - 11:12 pm
Many guitar CDs tell you which luthier made the instrument - perhaps its recording technique and how close the mikes are that make JW and another Smallman player Craig Ogden sound so different on disc.

JW has certainly seen a variety of recordings techniques. His early Smallman recordings like Portrait suffered from the metallic early digital sound, no wonder he went back to analogue recording for a while!

Your comparison with Bream is interesting Bill - one of JW's qualities is the stability of his interpretations over time. What you get with JW are better recorded performances that justify re-recording, whereas Bream's interpretations show more variety. Ther's no doubt some artists with long recording careers adopt an approach of "last time I played it fast, this time I'll play it slow, last time I played the phrases straight, this time I'll pull them apart with rubato...". JW offers better recording or simply an appreciation of a piece that changes in the context of the rest of the programme.

Back to Jay's original point - I don't think it's a case of sounding better with Fleta or Smallman. Where he's re-recorded most of the newer recordings (Barrios excepted) sound better.
Next message Bill D posted on Tuesday, 20 September, 2005 - 12:14 am
This echoes what Eric Clapton wrote about Hank Marvin:
"My own playing has gone through many changes and a great deal of ups and downs over the years, and therefore it never ceased to amaze me that Hank managed to arrive exactly where he wanted, and then stayed there."

Even if there seems to be a subtle, dry (sarcastic?) hint that HM didn't develop further, the point is that HM had completely developed his distinctive style and skill by 1960, with things like "Apache" and "Man of Mystery". (Coincidentally, this was around the time that JW was starting to make a name for himself.)

The other guitar heroes/gods were just starting out and spent the next one, two or three decades developing their styles. EC moved from blues to rock to "slowhand" and beyond. George Harrison moved from his economic but effective fills for the Beatles to his beautiful slide guitar style that was popular in the 70s and became his trademark in the 80s and 90s.

If you ask people about distinctive guitar styles, they will usually fail. They may say "Hendrix" but be unable to describe it. They may say "Clapton" but his style changed too much to pin down. Unless they know the album tracks, they will struggle with the styles of Harrison, Santana, Dave Edmunds or anyone else. (Go on: how many people could describe Keith Richards' style. And don't shout "Me", smart-arses! I asked "How many?" not "Who can?")

But as soon as you ask about Hank Marvin, they will launch into "Apache": da-dum da-da-dum dee-dee-dum...

One of the most significant later "developments" I noticed in JW's music wasn't alway the playing but the transcriptions. I heard an arrangement of the Vivaldi Concerto for Two Mandolins on an "Inspector Morse" CD (played on mandolins!) and wondered where the extra notes or twiddles (which seemed superfluous at first listening) came from. I then read the sleeve notes and found out that Barrington Pheloung had consulted Vivaldi's original manuscripts!

Later, other players, such as JW or Sharon Isbin, were playing similar extra "twiddles". Earlier recordings, with simpler (easier?) arrangements without the extra notes seemed flat and deficient.
Next message Tim posted on Tuesday, 20 September, 2005 - 08:03 am
I've not listened to that many other performers playing the Vivaldi concertos. Eduardo Fernandez plays a lot more ornamentation in the D major concerto - "a twiddle too far" compared with JW. The finest of his recordings is the Seville concert version - one of those rare recordings where he shows a big tempo difference from the previous recording of the finale.

Hank Marvin!! Just thinking about the electronic twang of the Shad's "Aranjuez" makes me shudder... I think I'll go and listen to Miles Davis to cool down!
Next message Bill D posted on Tuesday, 20 September, 2005 - 01:24 pm
Didn't know they had done Aranjuez. Not so keen on them doing classical or show tunes. Prefer their originals.

And what can beat a title like "The Rise and Fall of Flingel Bunt"?

HM's playing wasn't usually twangy. That was Duane Eddy! :-)
Next message Tim posted on Tuesday, 20 September, 2005 - 05:11 pm
The Shads did do Aranjuez but you're right - they're better with their originals. But then players with long careers are entitled to the occasional lapse in taste - I think JW's were "The Wizard of Oz" and "Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner". Perhaps that's why Jay thinks that he sounded better before he switched to Smallman...
Next message Bill D posted on Tuesday, 20 September, 2005 - 11:46 pm
Agreed. Great skill doesn't necessarily necessarily mean great taste.

Some of the stuff on "Plays The Movies" would not be on my essential list.

However, I liked some of it but much of it did not really benefit from classical guitar being the focus. The pieces were good but did not always really suit classical guitar. Like JW or Göran Söllscher doing Beatles pieces.

There, I've said the anathema. Sorry, Richard. I'll go and lie down in a dark place and say twenty novenas... :-)
Next message Jay posted on Wednesday, 21 September, 2005 - 09:22 pm
Well whatever the recording set-up these days I absolutely love what his engineers
did on his "Spanish Music" album when he
was using his 1961 Fleta..the strength and
energy he achieved at that time I have not
heard since on any recording bar none. My
second favourite album is "Echoes of Spain"
where he was using his 1972 Fleta....happy
Next message Peter  posted on Saturday, 24 September, 2005 - 01:31 pm
Well my feeling about JW is that he is from a tecnical and intellectual point of view farout the best classical guitarist .
However,I sometimes (!) notice a lack of musical energy or empathy .
Yet, there is a great devotion deep inside him to the guitar and music (good music ofcourse ) as well.
JW is an icon ,flawless ,but not an improvisator ,more someone who is interested in diversity of styles etc...
and a bit of writing.
He is also a reletavely stable person inside which makes that he is able to play at the highest level for approx.50 years.

I think that his early interpretations
are very energetic,powerfull.
Personaly, I prefer the Fleta because ,from my point of view ,it is an instrument with a very characteristic ,personal sound.

I think the combination of Bream and Williams is/was perfect because of the
great differences in temperament ,style
For me,the ideal guitarist should combine the best of these two,although they both are in their own way ,a source of inspiration to me and will always be.
Next message Tim posted on Wednesday, 28 September, 2005 - 05:59 pm
Hi again. I've had to be away for a few days and it's good to see others have joined in.

Heresy indeed Bill! I hope you've had chance to say your twenty novenas. Not that JW himself was never accused of heresy for playing repertoire that wasn't part of the Segovia canon.

I think this might be the key to the whole discussion over Fleta v Smallman - musical preference. The albums JW recorded on his Smallmans don't repeat the same repertoire as he recorded on a Fleta. And yes, those CD re-issues of Fleta recordings concentrate on the Spanish and Baroque musics which attract people to classical guitar music in the first place.

I might prefer the sound of earlier Barrios to the later, but the Seville Concert Albeniz items really benefit from the more recent recording quality. One of the joys of JW's discography has been the exploration of new repertoire, rather than simply re-recording all the old favourites on a different guitar with newer technology.

Bream and Williams... they're just classics and the performances would be just as treasureable if they'd used a couple of twenty quid factory built guitars with wonky frets and worn strings (mind you, I'm glad they didn't).
Next message Bill D posted on Wednesday, 28 September, 2005 - 10:14 pm
The Bream & Williams CDs were my father's favourite albums (even although he was primarily a Beethoven/Piano man).

That what we played at his funeral.
Next message Tim posted on Thursday, 29 September, 2005 - 12:10 am
The first one particularly has always been one of my favourites. Both men were at the height of their powers at the time - I think that the quality of the music, their playing and togetherness would have transcended whatever instruments they'd used.

Sometimes music's emotion comes from the composer and performer, sometimes from ourselves. And sometimes our own emotion transcends the music itself. Bill, I hope that you can hear the Bream and Williams CDs with happy memories as well as sad. Yours, Tim
Next message Bill D posted on Thursday, 29 September, 2005 - 09:51 am
Happy and sad.

My Dad always used to rave about piano music (particularly Emil Gilels) and operatic singers (particularly Heddle Nash).

However, I gave him a few JW CDs and the JB/JW ones and they were never off his CD player.

In 1995, I took him to a JW concert, first time at a concert in many years. Made sure he got an aisle seat because he had been ill with heart trouble. At one point, I looked round and his head was back, eyes shut, mouth open. I panicked and said (in the middle of the performance) "Are you OK?". He said "Yes, I'm just enjoying it". He was solid gone, as they used to say.

Now THAT'S a happy memory! :-)

(Although it has just brought a smiley tear to my eye.)
Next message Tim posted on Thursday, 29 September, 2005 - 03:58 pm
I'm glad there's some happy memories there too. When you lose someone close the memories sometimes come upon you when you least expect it and catch you unawares.

I remember in Graham Wade's "Traditions of the Classical Guitar" he wrote something about audiences struggling to concentrate on the music because of the discomfort of the seats and the anticipation of an interval whisky... as if that could be all.
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