Australia has a distinguished modern history of classical guitarists and guitar groups with the likes of John Williams, Garteh Koch, the Grigoryan brothers and Timothy Kain’s Guitar Trek coming to mind. The Melbourne Guitar Quartet is another fine ensemble who have extended the place of the guitar in the concert hall as well as regards to repertoire. This new self-published disc wittily titled Blood Oath continues their unique approach not only in terms of instrumentation which sees a variety of instruments employed (bass, baritone and tenor, or requinto, guitars).
They refer to themselves and the instrumentation as a “guitar family” and this disc sees them further extending themselves from the likes of their acclaimed performances of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint (originally conceived for Jazz great Pat Metheny and overdubs) to focus upon transcriptions of acclaimed string quartets by Philip Glass and Pēteris Vasks (String Quartet No 3, Mishima and String Quartet No 4 respectively) arranged by members of this quartet. Arvo Pärt’s familiar Fratres is also included, and though this is familiar as a string quartet, Pärt always remained open about its instrumentation thereby allowing it to be adapted perhaps more easily to this variety of guitars heard here than the works by Glass and Vasks more firmly imprinted in our musical memory as works for strings.
However, these are highly successful adaptations as far as listening experiences are concerned. In fact, the structure of these works, with their hypnotic use of overlapping arpeggios and often simple hymnlike effects lend themselves most successfully to the genre of the guitar quartet. Equally fascinating are the two short pieces by Australian composer Robert Davidson, one of the country’s finest composers for the instrument. Davidson’s pieces are based on elements of nature with the simple titles of River and Cliffs. All works are delivered in warm, intimate performances with a sympathetic acoustic to match.