The Soldier’s Return 

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Various composers
LABELS: Resonus
ALBUM TITLE: The Soldier’s Return 
WORKS: Guitar works inspired by Scotland: Giuliani: The Soldier’s Return; Prelude and Scotsoises 1 and 2; Blue Bells of Scotland; Jenny’s Bawbee; Coming through the Rye, etc; plus works by Legnani, Sor & Mertz
PERFORMER: James Akers (guitar)
CATALOGUE NO: RES 10165  

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If you’re used to spotlessly silky performances of fruity Spanish pieces on big modern guitars, this may take a couple of listens to recalibrate. The salon instrument of the early 1800s has a more intimate sound: boxy, dry, but warmer and richer-hued, especially played as here on gut(-type) strings, with fingertips rather than nails (which took over during Segovia’s time). It’s a small soundscape, but when played with such beauty, taste and subtlety, an utterly enchanting one.

The music – accomplished if not daring works by guitarist-composers of the day – was inspired by Scotland, then big on the aesthetic radar, but evokes the touching, delicate poetry of Robert Burns rather than the stormy epics of Walter Scott. Mertz’s dreamy, Barrios-like Fingal’s Cave is the most distinctive composition, though some tunes prove surprisingly familiar (there’s Auld Lang Syne and Polly put the kettle on hidden here). 

Akers’s range of tones is wonderful – hints of bagpipes in Country Bumpkin, of horns in La Marcia, and so on, and utterly enchanting colours in Coming through the Rye. He sprinkles modest works with magic dust. To explore the charming world of the guitar’s first golden age, you won’t do better than this lovely disc.

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Rob Ainsley