What a wonderful treat to make the acquaintance of six sonatas for solo guitar (~1817) with such a worthy advocate as David Starobin and the Bridge engineering team (Doron Schächter, engineer, editor Ian Striedter and mastering engineer, Adam Abeshouse) to bring them all to memorable life.
No. 1, C major
The set lifts off with an appropriately Viennese regality, that soon loses its pomp for a somewhat conversational interplay between right hand and left hand. Starobin delivers ear-catching dynamics even as Matiegka adds moments of silence that would have Papa Haydn beaming. The bravura over a steady pedal before the return adds much to the overall effect. If only the repeats had been observed (always greedy for more).
The Menuetto is awash with a variety of tones and touches (perhaps just a metronome notch too fast for these ears) before the Trio offers an array of welcome, contrasting triplets.
Rondo: Allegretto features an ideal tempo and wonderful sense of naiveté, everything leading to a satisfying, confident conclusion.
No. 2, A minor
The opening Allegro maestoso has a decidedly operatic feel and a few harmonic surprises. The second section has a few elements of mysterioso but always moves ahead with ease.
Thoughtful and confident best describes the Menuetto before a whimsical trio—with its purposely altered repeated voicings—provides welcome contrast before the usual “return”.
The Rondo’s theme is confidently presented, Variation I moves at will; II revels in its virtuosity (seemingly child’s play for Starobin) and a few chromatic excursions; III is much more thoughtful even as the recurrence of triplets definitely aids the overall flow; IV, with its stately air, deftly sums up all that came before with dignity and aplomb, before quietly escaping into the night.
No. 3, G major
The opening movement exudes vitality and a touch of impishness. No one could help but smile even as the Mozart-like dotted rhythms drive everything forward. A few harmonic excursions in the late innings add still more interest.
The Scherzo overflows with an energizing lilt—who could resist this invitation to the dance alongside the rhythmically connected Trio.
The finale is a wonderfully mixed bag of tempi, textures and overriding talent from Starobin—totally enjoyable with every measure.
No. 4, E minor
This one begins with a spritely approach and feel, intermingled with finely balanced contrasts and riveting punctuations. Its closing subject moves like a breeze, then requires several “false” endings before coming to rest.
The Scherzo is a wonderful mix of understatement and bravura, somewhat akin to talking inwardly to oneself. The Trio is a much-needed, gentle salve.
Capriccio: Adagio cantabile, Presto, Adagio, Presto, Adagio readily reveals itself in its title. Perhaps the most original movement of the lot, the feeling of “Well now, what about this?” permeates the, once again, operatic/conversational tone.
The final, hushed adieu is the discreet dramatic icing on this scintillating cake. Starobin never misses a beat or a nuance.
No. 5, D major
As he continues in this set, Matiegka now opts to tease the listener and challenge the performer.
Allegro moderato begins life as an ode to pleasantries before its second subject turns up the heat and intensity while the aural difference between eighth and quarter notes adds still further colour to the “apparently innocuous” proceedings. Making the return say much more than its original statement is as welcome as spring rain. Only a tad more weight on the left-hand leading tone could have improved the result.
Next is an experimental Menuetto where the notion of “find the downbeat” (pedals or not) adds much to the sense of discovery. A much more rhapsodic Trio is the perfect foil.
The closing Rondo provides musical clarity and a compelling sense of fun (“This is your reward?”). After yet another Haydnesque silence, the coda is an early definition of how “cool” even classical music can be.
No. 6, B minor
The concluding sonata, once more, is conversationally infused with, initially, two clearly different points of view. How to find common ground? Less stridency, gentler declamations, carefully executed grace notes, perhaps a few shifts of mode? All are tried at various times even as some thoughts get encores. Happily, the last gasp is notably less pugnacious, then sanity prevails.
The continuation of happiness and joy—at times near frolicking—lets the Scherzo confirm that all is well entre amis (the somewhat more intimate Trio abundantly reinforces that fact).
The Finale exudes a somewhat gentler confidence, as Starobin realizes Matiegka’s long-ago vision with skill, love and affection. JWR