BERNSTEIN:  Concerto for Guitar & Orchestra -- For Two Christophers.  ALBÉNIZ: La Vega (from "The Alhambra").  MARSHALL:  Essay for Guitar
Christopher Parkening, guitar/London Symphony Orch/Elmer Bernstein, cond; Jack Marshall, cond (Marshall).

EMI 56859 (F) (DDD/ADD) TT:  48:02 

The gem of this recording is Jack Marshall's arrangement of La Vega by AlbČniz, originally was written for piano.  With the subtle textures of Marshall's sensitive orchestration, we are taken to a shimmering scene of the exquisite Moorish palace near Granada and its beautiful surrounding landscape. This gentle 14-minute evocation of Spain is exquisite and doubtless will become a staple with public radio audiences. 

Marshall's Essay for Guitar (actually for guitar and small orchestra) was composed for Parkening in 1967 when the guitarist was only 19 and  was Parkening's debut recording.  It seems that members of the orchestra were so supportive of the young guitarist that they donated their services for the project. The high point of Essay is the second of the three movements, Andante tranquillo, another of those languid miniature Spanish scenes so effective for the gentle sounds of a guitar accompanied by subdued orchestra.   Outer movements are pleasant enough but of limited thematic interest, which also can be said of Elmer Bernstein's  22-minute Concerto for Guitar & Orchestra -- For Two Christophers.  Bernstein is a legend among contemporary composers of music for the cinema, receiving numerous awards for  more than 200 scores for motion pictures and television over the past half-century.  The idea of a guitar concerto had been in gestation for some years.  Encouraged by both Christopher Parkening and the late Christopher Palmer (who did so much to further quality cinema scores), Bernstein finally completed  the concerto last year dedicating it to the "two Christophers."  The high point surely is the quiet center movement ("Reflections"); the two outer movements are energetic with little of melodic interest -- although the composer's colorful orchestration never lets us forget that he is famous for his film scores.  In a concert performance it is doubtful the guitar could be heard over the heavy orchestration, but on the recording it is an equal partner.

Performances are splendid.  Recorded sound, even for the recording made more than 30 years ago, is excellent.  The sole debit is a total playing time of only 48:02; couldn't Parkening have added a few more solos to give the purchaser more value for the dollar?  In spite of this, guitar aficionados surely will wish to investigate this CD, particularly for La Vega.

R.E.B. (Oct. 2000)