R. C. Kohl: Landscapes (2011)

Bio (from the CD insert and CDBaby):
R. C. Kohl is an instructor on the Music Faculty of the Universidad Veracruzana in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico.  Roberto Aguirre is an instructor on the Music Faculty of the Universidad Veracruzana and member of its Classical Guitar Ensemble.  Rey Conde is adjunct director of the State of Veracurz’ Youth Symphonic Orchestra.  [Landscapes is] original works for solo classical guitar, guitar with orchestra and guitar with electronic effects with minimalist and world music influences structured around classical forms.

R. C. Kohl (Classical Guitar), Roberto Aguirre (Classical Guitar), Rey Conde (Conductor), Veracruz Youth Symphonic Orchestra

LANDSCAPES is the first classical form music that I have been sent to review.  I had an idea in my mind of what I was going to get with this CD, and right away it defied my expectations.  Some of the tracks were more what I thought a CD of “LANDSCAPES for guitar and orchestra” would be, but some were not.

The bookends to the album, “The man with the blue guitar I” and “The man with the blue guitar II” are minimalist, semi-electronic compositions built around a few guitar notes, and reminded me more of Phillip Glass than of the idea that comes to mind for classical guitar.  The first suite on the album, “Landscapes,” was much more what I was expecting, except that the guitar was less prominent that I thought it would be.  Landscapes, which breaks down into four tracks, is very orchestral, very “classically” classical.  The guitar is featured in every track of Landscapes, but not as the star I thought it would be, it is more just a part of the orchestra with moments of break out where it becomes more evident.  Out of the 16 minutes that makes up Landscapes, I enjoyed “Desert/Sea & sky” the most; this track is heavy and brooding and very theatrical, and I could see it being a part of the soundtrack to a film.

Kohl and his classical guitar

The next suite is “Suite Santa Cruz” which is made up of seven individual tracks, for a total of about ten minutes.  From the beginning, “Uncle Charlie’s summer camp,” this is much more of what I expected from LANDSCAPES, this is much more guitar-forward music than the last suite.  The guitar continues to be the star throughout this suite, and there are some really interesting bits contained within, especially the “noodling” on “Beach & boardwalk” that is so not-your-average guitar riffs.

Following Santa Cruz is “Estudies Étnicos II,” and at about 21 minutes it is the longest of the suites on LANDSCAPES.  This suite is “the second of a series of studies… in which [Kohl] consciously utilize[s] certain musical aspects of various ethnic musics… West African, North African, Hawaiian, Japanese and Irish.” (excerpted from the CD liner)  The influences are apparent.  I was not as aware of the African influences as I am not very familiar with much African music, but the Hawaiian, Japanese, and Irish influences were very obvious to me, and Kohl represents these influences nicely in his interpretations of their musical styles.

Kohl rockin’ the red

The last piece is “Sonata Breve III,” a sonata in three tracks dedicated to Kohl’s grandson.  “Allegro” plays to the energy and rambunctious nature of a small child, and knowing that this piece is about Kohl’s grandson affirms the feel of the track nicely.  “Lullaby” is just that, a nice, calming piece that brings the energy back down and lulls the listener to relax.  “Danza” finishes the sonata with some more fun, childlike tunes; they again remind me of a child at play, and invoke a somewhat “curious” vibe.

Overall, LANDSCAPES is just not my style; I have never really been much into classical guitar.  I appreciate the skill it takes to make the classical guitar do a lot of the things heard on LANDSCAPES, but it has never really been an instrument I’ve taken much notice of.  LANDSCAPES definitely makes me take more notice; after listening to the compositions on this disc I have a much greater appreciation for what can be done with a nylon string guitar.  The pieces that I enjoyed the most were the pieces that defied my expectations for LANDSCAPES.  I liked the minimalist electronics presented in “blue guitar” and I also really enjoyed “Landscapes” use of the full orchestra.  Overall, this is a really nice album, and a really beautifully composed set of works, and for anyone that really appreciates the classical guitar – or classical music in general – this would be a great CD.  For me, it’s not really my style, and I don’t think it’s something I’ll listen to too often, but I can certainly see it playing at certain times, or making up great soundtrack to films with a lot of its different pieces.  It’s definitely expanded my horizons.

Overall 6.5 / 10

LANDSCAPES for sale: http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/RCKohl

LANDSCAPES site: http://www.facebook.com/rckohl1

R. C. Kohl: Landscapes

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