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Classical Choices: October 2023 - Curated by Charlotte Gardner

Our latest classical playlist includes new releases from guitarist Thibaut Garcia, violinist Bojan Čičič and Solem Quartet.

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October’s Classical Choices opens with the recipient of Gramophone magazine’s 2023 Recording of the Year award: Nielsen’s Symphonies Nos 4 and 5 from the Danish Symphony Orchestra under its principal conductor, Fabio Luisi. I’ve given you the final movement of Symphony No 4, ‘The Inextinguishable’, which more than lives up to its name here.

From there, it’s on to October’s new releases: French guitarist Thibaut Garcia’s programme devoted to the self-dubbed ‘Paganini of the Paraguayan Jungle’, Augustín Barrios; Bojan Čičič’s offering of JS Bach’s solo violin sonatas and partitas, and a wide-ranging multi-composer programme from the Solem Quartet. 

Augustín Barrios - El Bohemio

Thibaut Garcia


While the music of Paraguayan guitar virtuoso Augustín Barrios (1885-1944) is a central feature in many classical guitarists’ repertoire, his name remains less familiar among average classical listeners – a situation that tells us much about the current profile of classical guitar. 

Barrios’ work is the focus of a new recording from Erato’s young star guitarist Thibaut Garcia – his first album devoted to a single composer. It’s not hard to see what inspired Garcia to embark on the project: Barrios’ melding of South American popular music styles with western classical Romanticism, often depicting extra-musical images, is easy to love, and all the more so in Garcia’s hands. 

For a prime example of Barrios’s musical make-up, head to ‘Un limosnita por el amor de Dios’. This unmistakably South American-sounding piece features a tremolo main melody – played here with wonderfully controlled fluid lightness and rubato poetry – accompanied by a countermelody 

that includes a constantly recurring pair of repeated notes (an element inspired by a woman who once knocked on Barrios’s door as he taught a lesson to request ‘An alm for the love of God’).  

You can hear how effortlessly Barrios blended his national musical DNA with western early Romanticism in the lilting freedom and rhythmic caprice of the Chopin-esque Valses Op.8, and his transcription of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata – both of which come softly nuanced here from Garcia. 

Indeed, soft poetry with an abundance of colour, light and shade is very much the album’s overall mood, even if this is broken up by moments of more up-tempo virtuosity such as in ‘Las abejas’. This feels exactly right in the context of Barrios’ determined pursuit of softness: he would dampen the brightness of steel strings by putting paper or tissue at the top of his fingerboard, something you can hear for yourself in the final bonus track, which features Barrios himself performing ‘Caazapá. 

Barrios was also a poet, and Garcia nicely honours this by inviting a Paraguayan poet friend, Orlando Rojas, to read two of Barrios’s poetic verses. 

For the playlist, I’ve given you ‘Un limosnita por el amor de Dios’, the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata transcription, and the third of the Op. 8 waltzes.

Bach Sonatas and Partitas

Bojan Čičič


Bojan Čičič would be many people’s first choice of violinist to record Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas. Yet he’s also the person that most of us would least expect to produce one, perhaps because we’re so used to hearing him shining a light on rare 17th and 18th century repertoire as the founding leader of the Illyria Consort, and leading larger ensembles such as the Academy of Ancient Music.

A few months into the first Covid lockdowns, however, Čičič came across guitarist Sean Shibe’s Bach recording made in Midlothian’s 15th century Crichton Collegiate Church, and was inspired to record a solo-Bach-shaped project of his own in the same venue. Čičič travelled to Scotland in February and May 2021, as pandemic restrictions allowed. The finished recording is dedicated to his former violin teacher, who died midway through the sessions, and even in the context of it being a rare solo Bach recording that can’t be described as a milestone artistic undertaking for its performer, this one does feel particularly special.

To give you a flavour of Čičič‘s approach, Bach’s famous D minor partita opens with an unfussy, easy forwards flow and softly introvert feel, articulation notably detached and a clean, vibrato-less tone which later lends a wonderful crisp clarity to the bariolage passagework. Elsewhere, its ‘climaxes’ are beautifully understated. Dynamics don’t rise much beyond mezzo piano, which allows the notes and pure lyricism to do the talking. This all leads into the subtly wider, warmer legato beauty of the concluding phrase, its long final note coloured by some strikingly beautiful tremolo colour.

 It’s a story of intimacy, and an array of tone quality and articulation, exquisitely colouring a moment while simultaneously painting a larger dramatic arc. Take Sonata No 2’s Vivaldi-breathed Andante, radiating quietly worn profundity, its five-and-a-half minutes gliding forth from first note to last as a single musical rainbow – after which the ensuing Allegro brilliantly switches the dial with its pulse-quickening dynamic contrasts. Pause also to admire the subtly contrasting flavours of sweetness and radiance we’re treated to at the outer ends of Partita No 3’s Preludio, and the odyssey of expression betwixt them – indeed, it’s Partita No 3 I’ve given you here.

Painted Light

Solem Quartet


Solem Quartet have earned a stellar reputation for clever curation and championing the new. They have produced a thing of beauty with this presentation of music ‘awash with colour’ – most of which is recorded for the first time here. 

Two new commissions by two British composers form the backbone of Painted Light. First, Edmund Finnis’s eight-movement Devotions, a 2022 work conceived as a response to Beethoven’s String Quartet in A minor, op. 132 and in particular to its third-movement hymn of gratitude. Like the Beethoven, Finnis’s work alternates between slow-moving, chorale-like passages drawing on ancient church modes, and more buoyant, rhythmically vital music, opening one part at a time as a gradual build-up of long, ascending, clashing and resolving musical lines, initially dark but slowly blossoming into something more warmly tranquil.

It’s all tautly grown and shaped by the Solem Quartet with fabulous colouristic variation. Elsewhere, a vast toolbox of colouristic technique is employed towards the growth, wax and wane of the subsequent movements’ musical argument. The tender fifth, for example, built around a simple ground bass, could end up sounding like a cheap crossover tear-jerker in the hands of lesser musicians. Here, however, it catches your breath for all the right reasons.  

The second commission is Camden Reeves’s fifth string quartet, The Blue Windows: ten minutes of slowly shifting, overlapping chordal writing inspired by Marc Chagall’s 1976 triptych of stained glass windows presented to the Art Institute of Chicago, and painted here into a musical vision of floating dust in a blue-tinted sunbeam, against shimmering, vibrating organ pedal points.

The quartet could not have fulfilled the colour brief more seriously, or brought closer partnering, more sleek-edged rhythmic handling or sheer confidence. While its tender moments are heart-strings-pullingly good (listen to the delicately luxurious, smokey-toned serenity it brings to second violinist William Newell’s transcription of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now), it’s perhaps most exciting of all in its broad, rich-toned strength – for example, over Dutch composer Henriëtte Bosmans’s Debussy-esque String Quartet of 1927, which is is a knock-out for the sensual rhetorical freedom with which they articulate its expressionist passion.

Add a ravishing guest appearance from Ayanna Winter-Johnson, singing the vocal part she recently added to Earth, her 2018 hymn of wonder to our planet, and yes, Painted Light is awash with colour, whilst also radiating modernity and soul. I’ve given you the Finnis and Both Sides Nowfor the playlist.

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