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Reviews

REVIEWS ON THE QUALITY OF SOR'S MUSIC  

"The Grand Sonata Op.22 is nearly a half hour long and possesses a surprising sweep and grandeur."
John Wiser, Fanfare, May/June 1988

"The biggest work is the Fantasia in C, Op. 12 of Schubertian expressive range."
John Wiser, Fanfare, May/June 1988

"Sor's Op. 11 (is) a minor masterpiece which he [Lawrence Johnson] gives its first complete recording ever."
George Warren, Soundboard, Spring 1989

REVIEWS ON LAWRENCE JOHNSON'S PERFORMANCE OF SOR

"Instead of interpreting Sor's music from the classical perspective shared by most players, Johnson takes a romantic approach that favors expression and freer playing. Although this departure from tradition has involked the ire of some critics, Johnson's eloquent and soulful playing speaks for itself."
Jim Ferguson, Guitar Player, Sept. 1989

"Lawrence Johnson, a guitarist of considerable ability (and agility) and possessing a full warm sound ..."
George Clinton, Guitar International, July 1987

"Lawrence Johnson, A guitarist who lives in Rochester, is at work on a series that will document all of Fernando Sor's solo guitar music. He began the series in 1983 and has so far issued five cassettes on a private label. I have not heard the tapes but Elan, a CD label whose recordings are more widely distributed, has issued a compact disc containing 72 minutes of music from the series, including the Grand Sonata, Op. 22, a group of etudes from Op. 6, the Variations, Op. 11a, and three of the minuets that are also part of the Op. 11 set (Elan 2204). Johnson's story is unusual. A participant in a Segovia Masterclass in 1966, he teaches at Roberts Wesleyan College. He has said, however, that he doesn't like teaching enough to do it full-time and that he derives a substantial part of his income from driving a bus. The story calls to mind a now frequently repeated anecdote about the composer Philip Glass, who supported himself as a cab driver even after the success, in Europe and New York, of his first opera, Einstein on the Beach."

"On the evidence of this CD sampler, however, Johnson is clearly not a Sunday afternoon dabbler but a thoughtful, sensitive player with a distinct, defined point of view about Sor's place in the musical continuum. Sor, like Beethoven could be regarded as a late classicist or an incipient Romantic. The music's contours in many places suggest an approach with Classical contours, and the guitar's condensed palette supports that approach well. Johnson, however casts his vote for a Romantic interpretation of the works collected here. His approach is so personalized that few listeners are likely to endorse his every interpretive move, and some can seem extreme; yet there is no denying the musicality and logic that the performances embody."

"In their original published forms (available from Tecla editions) most of these works are essentially blank slates: The notes are given, there is often an approach to stemming that indicates balances in chord voicings, and there are rudimentary dynamic markings. But expressive markings as such are scarce. Johnson has not been shy about adding his own. He expands upon the dynamic markings, interposing crescendi and diminuendi between the more Spartan piano and forte markings of the printed editions. He rolls chords (even, at times, chords built of only two notes); and he uses an extreme rubato that, in the Allegro of the Grand Sonata (Op. 22) for instance, makes for an irresistible forward thrust."

"In the Variations he varies his timbres, dynamics and sometimes his voicing details on repeats. Among the complaints one might make is that his minuets (both in Op. 11 and in Op. 22) are interpreted with such rhythmic freedom that they stray greatly from their dance movement roots. Granted, Johnson offers them in the context of highly inflected concert music, but even so, the original impulses should govern the readings to a greater degree..."
Allan Kozinn, Music Critic for The New York Times, Guitar Review, No. 79

"Johnson's eloquent performances make an end product of considerable general interest."
John Wiser, Fanfare, May/June 1986

"Johnson holds your attention with intriguing musical ideas and superb playing."
Guitar Player, June 1989

"Recorded over a span of 11 years, this 15 CD set represents the entire creative output of Fernando Sor that was known at the completion of these recordings in 1994. There may be an addendum CD with newly discovered works to bring this impressive undertaking to the present day understanding of Sor’s complete oeuvre. A small consideration in relation to the body of work as represented in this monumental undertaking."

"Having studied with many of today’s great guitarists, Lawrence Johnson has the wealth of knowledge and artistic temperament to pay justice to this project. Having opted to not perform these works on a period instrument, Lawrence was correct in creating a record of this great music on as beautiful and expressive an instrument as possible. His technique and great sensitivity to the Spanish Romantic aesthetic also pays fitting tribute to this noble effort. There is a consistency in performance that was unexpected over such a long duration of time as represented by these recordings, another testament to the keen ear of a true artist."
GuitArt INTERNATIONAL Oct./Dec. 2003

SPECIAL NOTE:
Rochester, New York-based guitarist Lawrence Johnson has sent a much-appreciated correction to a comment I made in the review of a disc of compositions by Segovia played by Agustin Maruri. Johnson himself recorded a disc with a substantial number of Segovia works in 2000. This should have been noted in the review. I have this in the "Recordings Received" section of this issue. Mr. Johnson was also kind enough to send his innovative two-disc set of mp3 recordings. With the price of $20.00, and over nineteen hours of music, this is nothing if not a bargain. The two discs include almost the complete works of Fernando Sor, as well as the Segovia/Fuenllana recordings and a large number of "bonus" pieces. It would be an exaggeration to say that each piece in this massive collection was the definitive recording of the work, but all are respectably done. This is quite a resource. The recording quality is adequate, and shows no overt signs of quality loss in the data compression to mp3 format. Full liner-notes are available as a free download from Johnson's website, www.crgrecordings.com . [A word of advice: even if your disc playing equipment plays mp3s, you may find that playing them on a computer makes navigation much easier, due to the enormous number of tracks on each CD.] 
Albert Kunze

Soundboard, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2 

Music Composed by Lawrence Johnson - Free downloads of mp3s and scores

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