Grouped by the guitar, these three discs, available separately and as you please, include tuneful and diverting works by Antoine de Lhoyer (1768-1852), “a French royalist and professional soldier” who was also reckoned to be “the best guitar player in Europe”. A Naxos release (recorded in July 2014) encompasses Lhoyer’s “Complete Works for Guitar Trio and Quartet” and includes two expansive, four-movement Trios (in G, Opus 29, and in C, Opus 42). Both works are enjoyable in their urbanity and fluency of composition, and Jørgen Skogmo, Jens Franke and Oskar Werninge make a fine team playing these ambitious scores with skill, affection and lively interaction; this may be music by a Frenchman but it exudes Spanish sunshine and a Rossini-like twinkle-in-the-eye lyricism. Add Tim Pells as the fourth guitarist and you have Lhoyer’s Air varié et dialogue in G, full of song and good intentions. [NAXOS 8.573575; 63 minutes; ****]
Jens Franke is common to all three of these discs. He can also be heard solo in a release entitled “Bardic Song” (recorded 2009 and 2010) focussed on the music and arrangements of Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-56). His are mostly miniature pieces (at least here), selected from bigger sets; pleasant they certainly are if not always commanding undivided attention; that said Franke’s playing is a pleasure in itself and is distinguished by sovereign phrasing and lovely tone. There is though an attractive simplicity (in the best sense) to these vignettes and, sometimes, an involving soulfulness; and if you have ever fancied hearing hits from Verdi’s Rigoletto (not least ‘La donna è mobile’), well that moment has arrived courtesy of Mertz, not the only stage-work that he made merry with for his Opus 8 Opern-Revue, but don’t expect the elaboration of Liszt’s piano Paraphrases. There’s also a transcription of Johann Strauss II’s Annen-Polka, and re-workings of some Schubert, his Ländler, catalogued here as Opus 9 and in which the tune-smithing gets that bit more engaging. However, hats off to Franke for his dedication to the Mertz cause and also for such stylish address to music impossible to criticise but not so easy to swoon over. [STONE RECORDS 5060192780680; 63 minutes; ***]
And the final disc is all-Schubert, seventeen songs (including some of the most popular) with guitar accompaniment. Whatever Schubert’s relationship with the instrument was – he owned one, hanging it above his bed, and knew leading-lights of the day who were practitioners – these settings were always with a piano as the partner; and, indeed, the accompaniments here are by other hands (including Anton Diabelli, whose little Waltz spawned Beethoven’s thirty-three Variations) and most were published following Schubert’s death. There is one number included that may have the guitar part in Schubert’s hand, but it is not certain. As recorded (in 2013 at Wigmore Hall, London) Jens Franke is a little reticent and colourless when set against Anna Huntley’s voice (sometimes too loud as part of this relationship, if a tricky one to balance) which is alluring on its own terms if occasionally dwarfing the guitar, which in itself does not have the range of a piano. Franke is typically responsive though, the music is of course wonderful, and there is goodly silence between songs. [QUARTZ QTZ 2115; 59 minutes; ****].
Typical for this trio of discs is the excellent production values and the natural recorded sound and also the detailed and informative booklet notes.