Cover image of The Fifties and Now

The Fifties and Now

Stein-Erik Olsen

Ricardo Odriozola

Mara Haugen

Ilza Klava

Ragnhild Sannes

Trond Gjelsten Dale

Egil Haugland

Leo Brouwer Quintet (1957)

Ketil Hvoslef Troika for two guitars and percussion (2019

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Quintet Op 143 (1950)

The Fifties and Now

Excerpt from the liner note by Stephen Goss

The record´s blend of three different compositions exemplifies the great contrast composers can use to create different approaches in writing music for the guitar. The work done by Brouwer and Castelnuovo-Tedesco proves groundbreaking within the early music written for the guitar, where both composers focused on including the instrument in the compositions included on “The fifties and Now”. Especially “Quintet Op 143” (1950) by Castelnuovo-Tedesco may have caused the guitar to enter the halls of conservatories and universities, and therefore influence the audience and focus related to the guitar as a chamber music instrument. “Quintet” (1958) by Leo Brouwer was written by the cuban composer while he was only 17 years of age. In comparison to Castelnuovo-Tedesco, a more mature piece, written in the middle of the composer’s 50s. Brouwer used afro-cuban syncopated rhythms to make sure the guitar was more of a solo instrument in the composition. Brouwer also facilitated the piece for several different playing techniques, which make the composition able to move the heart of any musician.

The last composer featured on the record is not a guitarist himself, but is rather influenced by the instrument in relation to more unusual and unique compositions. “Troika for two guitars and percussion” (2019) gathers forms and influences from the Russian troika. Where the percussion takes the role as the locomotive, while the two galloping horses are substituted by two guitars. This guitar composition illustrates just how far the guitar has evolved as an instrument feature in chamber music since the 1950s. With the Castelnuovo-Tedesco piece the guitar was barely a part of the string quartet, however it was also an early establishing of the guitar as a worthy and natural member of the chamber music instruments.

Review by Guy Rickards for

"Excellent sound, excellent performances by all involved, fascinating programme."

The concept behind Stein-Erik Olsen’s latest album is the role of the Classical guitar in modern (i.e., twentieth century) chamber music, from seminal works of “The fifties” to an important recent addition: “the Now”. Villa-Lobos was the first major composer of modern times to write consistently for the instrument and his solo Studies, Preludes and Chôros No 1 ("Chôro Tipico") are justly famous. However, he did not use the instrument in a chamber context until relatively late, for instance, in the Sextuor Mystique in the mid-1950s, by which time the Italian Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) had composed—in 1950, in fact—his Quintet for guitar and string quartet, the first of any real stature since the Giulianis a century or more before, and possibly even Boccherini’s from the late eighteenth century. Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s genial and appealing Quintet, composed for the legendary virtuoso Andrés Segovia (whose Spanish heritage is reflected in two of its four movements), is then a major milestone in the history of modern Classical guitar.

So, too, is the Cuban composer Leo Brouwer’s, composed in 1957 when he was just seventeen for himself to perform. Brouwer is a celebrated guitarist-composer, who has composed for other guitarists as well as having works written for him. His Quintet is another work of considerable appeal, in three movements, the outer pair lively either side of a lyrical Adagio. It sounds, however, considerably more modern in idiom, too, full of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and swing rather than the Italian’s neo-Classical and neo-Schubertian manner.

These two quintets from the 1950s enabled the rich proliferation of chamber music with guitar that blossomed in the following decades. On this beautifully played and recorded disc, they frame one of the most recent examples of the ‘Now’: Hvoslef’s engaging, albeit (at times) slightly unsettling trio, Troika (2019). Scored for guitar duo and percussionist, Troika is cast in a large single movement, inspired by the Russian carriage traditionally drawn by three horses. There is little traditional about Hvoslef’s remarkably imaginative composition which, while the music has forward momentum throughout, expressively is often rather restrained. Stylistically, it is light-years away from the other two works (though perhaps shares a little here and there with Brouwer). It makes a very effective contrast with the two quintets and sets off Olsen’s sparkling playing—which is such a prominent feature of the quintets—in a very different aural perspective. At times, he duets adroitly with fellow guitarist Egil Haugland, at other times form a true with percussionist Trond Gjelsten Dale. It is the best piece on the disc, in my view, though many may prefer the Brouwer. Excellent sound, excellent performances by all involved, fascinating programme.

Review by Chris Dumigan for All Classical Guitar

Norwegian guitarist Stein – Erik Olsen is perhaps one of the most well – known guitarists the world has today, and here he has produced a fascinating CD with three large works all involving other instruments, two from the 1950s and one from 2019, hence the title!

He begins with Leo Brouwer’s Quintet from 1957, set in three movements and written when this famous guitarist/composer was just 17.As with many of his works there is plenty of modern harmonies but always with other influences, as here with the use of many African /Cuban sounds, and of the Pentatonic. His guitar writing has always been hugely important throughout his long life and his multiple pieces many of which have become rightfully well – known and loved by myriad of players and listeners. Of course with Brouwer being a player too, they are always very guitaristic, if not often very easy to play. The opening Allegro’s music is often based around 4ths, and to a certain extent the open strings of the guitar. The slow movement is a moving and reflective piece of writing with some lovely harmonies whilst the final Allegro Vivace finishes the work of very successfully with its off – beat swingy rhythms and the slightly blues inspired music.

The new work is by a composer whom I have never come across before, born in Bergen in Norway in 1939. Not a guitarist, but a pianist and a violist he has written a number of guitar works , mostly recorded by Olsen, and as a result, he knows the guitar well, and has received many commissions to write for it. This latest work Troika is a complex and lengthy work at a little more than eighteen and a half minutes in length that is immediately mysterious in its sound world, the inspiration for which came from the Russian Troika, or sleigh pulled by three horses, where apparently the middle horse does the majority of the pulling, and the two outside horses have to gallop considerably faster to keep up. The liner notes explain that he brings in the percussion as the middle horse and the two guitars as the other two, with the percussion written to,, at times prevent the two guitars from moving too freely. This intriguing idea is brought in via some modern music but not too atonal, thus creating a piece that is unusual, not at all derivative, but still fascinating to hear.

The final work is by surely one of the most significant guitar composers of the 20th Century, his works written by a man who could not play the guitar, and yet played by the vast majority of working players. The longest piece of the CD at just over 24 minutes, this four movement Quintet has been recorded many times before but this latest recording is surely one of the finest. The opening Allegro, vivo e schietto, has a dancing theme that occurs in many different guises throughout and really starts the work on an optimistic note. There is a contrasting theme later on in the movement but the vibrant opening theme does dominate. The Andante Mesto begins with the Quartet, a huge contrast to the first and full of lyricism throughout. The third movement Allegro con Spirito – alla Marcia is a Scherzo that jumps around and is very animated throughout. It has two different Trios that really do help to provide some contrasting material in this friendly sound – world. It is a flighty movement that never sits still for very long. The finale is an Allegro con Fuoco Rondo again full of life and including several places where counterpoint is used to great effect. The coda is extremely effective and a convincing close to what is one of the composer’s most important works.

This whole recording is wonderful, with three important and substantial works that deserve repeated plays on any music lover’s CD player. The actual performing by all concerned is second to none and as a result I can heartily recommend this as one of the best CDs you will buy this year.

Interview with Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco