David Starobin's Last (?) Studio Album


Matiegka: Six Sonatas, Op. 31 David Starobin, guitar. Bridge 9567 Total Time: 74:32 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****


The repertoire for solo guitar is often populated by the rich heritage of Spain and Latin America where it was an essential part of bringing those rhythms and musical stylings to a broader audience, as well as from Italy. At first glance, one might assume that this new Bridge release is by some contemporary composer, but Wenzeslaus Thomas Matiegka (1773-1830) was a contemporary of Beethoven and Schubert. Born in Bohemia, he would go on to study law while also becoming an accomplished pianist. In his 20s, he relocated to Vienna where he would build a life that would garner him attention in musical circles in the early 19th Century and he would carve out a life as a guitarist, composer, and piano teacher. He wrote a number of works for guitar as well as a variety of lieder.


Through the work of the Italian Mauro Guiliani (1781-1829), the use of the six-string guitar became more prominent and his arrival in Vienna in 1806 likely further opened the door for Matiegka to realize the commercial potential of music for this instrument. This coupled with the burgeoning publishing industry developing in Vienna would provide a greater opportunity for new music for this instrument as interest began to rise at the end of that first decade. He would compose some 31 pieces between 1805 and 1817 for the instrument.


Several composers explored writing for the guitar with the earliest Viennese publication being of Simon Molitor’s Grosse Sonata, Op. 7 in 1806. Matiegka’s six sonatas that make up Op. 31 were published just as the fad for the guitar was waning. It is likely that the works were actually composed in 1811 or thereabouts. The pieces have a somewhat Classical elegance in their melodic ideas and shaping. Essentially they are pairs of sonatas that are set as companions in the relative major/minor of one another. There are plenty of interesting harmonic shifts here and there that hint at the changes in the wind as the new century began. Matiegka also manages to do both direct and subtle melodic quotation in some of these pieces for a set of variations on a French tune (sonata 2); to subtle hints at Mozart, Viennese landler, and even Haydn (sonata 5); and a bit of Sturm and Drang (sonata 6). The sonatas each maintain a three-movement structure. Most have a central movement menuet that is changed out for a scherzo in the fourth and sixth sonatas. The final movements are a bit more diverse between rondos, variation sets, or even a “capriccio”. Each piece runs just a little over ten minutes usually and that makes them all worthy pieces for concert use. There is a gentle lilt to the slower melodic ideas that is brought out well in these performances. The music is all quite engaging throughout this ample recital.


It was a welcome surprise to see that David Starobin, who retired from concert performing in 2018, had gone into the studio the following year to record these rare pieces in what purports to be his final studio album. They were part of his last tour program. There is a lot of opportunity to hear all those nuances and rich aspects of guitar performance that Starobin is noted for as one of the great guitarists of the 20th Century. The music here is a delight and quite engaging in Starobin’s performance which is captured beautifully in the rich sound by the Bridge Records engineers. Highly recommended!


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