July/August, 2004

Classical guitarists have long sought a composer whom they may hail as the Chopin of the guitar. While some liken Francisco Tarrega's beautiful yet understated melodies and reflexive use of guitar idioms to Chopin's piano works, others feel more strongly that the Etudes of Heitor Villa-Lobos are to the guitar what the Chopin Etudes are to the piano. Nonetheless, the dynamic range and dazzling flourishes that mark Chopin's work have often seemed better suited to the keyboard than to the plucked string. Philip Hii's most recent release artfully defies such claims. It owes its success not only to Hii's brilliant technique, but to his inventive and studied arranging skills. The affect of the Nocturnes selected for this disc are fully maintained in Hii's guitar versions, and he navigates the delicate lines with an ease achieved only through deep thought and reflection. Op.48, No.1 is the first piece to fully explore Hii's range of talents, challenging the guitarist with quick chromatic lines interwoven into a complex polyphony. Equally memorable is Hii's performance of Op.55, No.1, in which he captures the essence of the many beautiful moments in this composition. The penultimate nocturne, Op.72, No.1, once again offers Hii the opportunity to display his acrobatics as he dances through some surprisingly fast scalar passages while carefully maintaining the active polyphonic lines. Aside from offering a wealth of new repertoire to challenge concert guitarists, this recording also sheds new light on compositions that greatly shaped the romantic period and thus I believe it would appeal to all who appreciate Chopin's work.

© Timothy Smith