Katona Twins February 2014 Programme

Friday 21 February 2014

Sponsored by Wollen Michelmore

Rossini (1792 – 1868) arr. KatonaLa Gazza Ladra (Overture)
J S Bach (1685 – 1750) arr. KatonaEnglish Suite No 3, BWV 808
Gavotte I
Gavotte II
Albéniz (1860-1909) arr. KatonaCordoba (from Cantos de España, Op. 232)
Albéniz arr. KatonaAsturias (from Suite española No 1 Op 47)
Handel (1685 – 1759) arr. KatonaChaconne in G, HWV 435
Rodrigo (1901 – 1999)Invocación y danza – guitar (1962)
Albéniz arr. KatonaMallorca, Op. 202
de Falla (1867 – 1946) arr. KatonaEl Amor Brujo (Excerpts)
Dance of Terror
The Magic Circle
Ritual Fire Dance

Katona Twins (Guitar Duo)

Peter and Zoltán Katona, acclaimed by the Daily Telegraph as “the classical world’s best-known guitar duo”, give recitals in major concert venues throughout the world, among them the Royal Festival and Wigmore Halls in London, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Konzerthaus in Vienna, the Suntory Hall in Tokyo, the Alte Oper in Frankfurt and Philharmonie in Cologne.  In 2009, as the soloists of the "Night of the Proms", they performed live to half a million people in arenas across Europe.  Forthcoming engagements this year take them to Serbia, Russia and Germany, and, in September, they will tour the Far East taking in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Winners of over ten international prizes at major competitions, the Katona Twins are regular favourites at festivals and music societies throughout the UK.  They have recorded frequently for the BBC and other international television and radio stations.  Their award-winning CD releases include music by Scarlatti and Handel; Rodrigo; Albéniz, Piazzolla and Manuel de Falla.

The Duo’s wide repertoire ranges from Bach, through Piazzolla’s tango music to their own arrangements of pop classics.  Their programmes also include concertos for two guitars and orchestra by Rodrigo, Vivaldi, Piazzolla and Tedesco.  Michael Berkeley, Judith Bingham, Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez and other contemporary composers have written for and dedicated works to the Katona Twins.  They have also collaborated with string quartets and other chamber groups.

The Katona Twins studied both individually and as a guitar duo in Budapest, Frankfurt and at the Royal Academy of Music in London.  During their studies, their teachers included Julian Bream and John Williams.  Born in Hungary, Peter and Zoltan Katona are German citizens and now live in the UK.

Programme Notes

All items, apart from the Rodrigo piece, have been arranged by the Katona Twins

Rossini – Overture to La Gazza Ladre (The Thieving Magpie)

Of all Rossini’s overtures, this one is second only to William Tell in the popularity stakes even though the operatic melodrama for which it was the curtain-raiser has fallen into relative obscurity.  But the overture does have a lot going for it.  It starts with a pair of snare drum rolls to accentuate the military-style introduction and, after more drum rolls, a crescendo and a dramatic pause, we are treated to a succession of lovely themes, trademark Rossini dynamics (extended crescendos) and a mini development section involving the three main themes.  The final crescendo leads to a full-blown climax and an exuberant coda.

Bach – English Suite No 3, BWV 808

Johann Sebastian Bach wrote six English Suites for harpsichord – now thought to be the earliest of his 19 suites for keyboard – dating from around 1715 while the composer was living in Weimar.  Why they carry the name “English” is uncertain.  The six French Suites owe much to the French Baroque keyboard style but it is difficult to justify a similar claim in respect of the English Suites.  It has been suggested that they may owe the English title to their having been composed for an English nobleman or as a tribute to Chales Dieupart, whose fame was greatest in England, and on whose Six Suittes de Clavessin. Bach’s English Suites were, in part, based.

Each of the six suites begins with a virtuosic prelude followed by a sequence of varied dance movements.  In the case of the one we are to hear, the first dance movement is a sweet-flowing Allemand followed by a lively Courante.  Then, in sharp contrast, we have a slow, sublime Saraband followed by two Gavottes.  The first Gavotte is lively whereas the second is mellow but the latter is followed by a second appearance of the lively one.  The work is then brought to a close with a solid, but energetic Gigue.

Albéniz- Cordoba – Asturias – Mallorca

The Spanish pianist and composer, Isaac Albéniz, was a child prodigy who first performed at the age of 4 and passed the entrance examination for piano at the Paris Conservatoire (but was refused admission as too young) at the age of 7.  Aged 9 he commenced his concert career and was touring the world as a performer by the age of 15!

He also composed – mainly piano music.  His early works were “salon-style” pieces but, in 1883, he met the teacher and composer Felip Pedrell, a leading figure in the development of nationalist Spanish music, who inspired him to join in this genre.  This is precisely the music we now universally associate with Albéniz.  And much of his piano music has been transcribed for guitar – indeed some of his works are now better known as guitar pieces.  This is, perhaps, not surprising for Albéniz took the guitar as his instrumental model, transferring guitar idioms into piano writing and drawing inspiration from Andalusian folk music (but without using actual folk themes).  Thus, guitar-like strums, flamboyant scales and flourishes of flamenco are evoked throughout much of his music.


We are to hear three typical pieces.  The first, Cordoba, starts with slow, quiet, hymn-like chords, surely evoking the great mosque/cathedral which dominates the city.  This gives way to a hauntingly beautiful melody set against acrid dissonances of the plucked accompaniment which leads to a tremolo climax before returning to the opening mood to end quietly. What could be more Moorish!


This is followed by Asturias, originally published as the prelude to the Cantos de España (Songs of Spain) but renamed, by the publisher, and included in a posthumous, enlarged edition of Suite española – no doubt a marketing ploy to avoid offending the inhabitants of an important Spanish region that had failed to inspire Albéniz.  The music actually sounds as Andalusian as Cordoba, Sevilla and Granada – Moorish Spain which so enchanted the composer.

It is, perhaps, the quintessential “Spanish guitar” piece – a favourite of Segovia, and virtually every guitarist that followed him.  Quick dance-tempo sections are separated by a slow central section, the opening phrases of which evoke the improvised solo song of that persecuted Indian-Jewish-Gypsy cultural amalgam that produced what we today call flamenco.  In the final coda there is a hint of the Christian harmonies we heard in Cordoba.


The final piece we are to hear by Albéniz, Mallorca, will be the third item after the interval.  This is quite different from the Andalusian inspired pieces we have heard so far.  A barcarolle is used to present a musical illustration of the island that lies off the eastern coast of Spain.  It starts with a rather dark, haunting melody of a reflective nature but this gives way to a middle section with a warmer, more exuberant theme that has something of an Italian flavour.  The darker opening mood returns to bring the piece to a close.

Handel- Chaconne in G

Handel composed at least 25 suites for harpsichord but, unlike Bach, he did not adhere to the basic framework of the dance suite.  He sometimes included some kind of variation movement.  Indeed, suites HWV 435 and 432 are single movement chaconnes labelled as suites – the chaconne having evolved from a New World quick dance-song into a slow triple metre instrumental form as a vehicle for variation.

In this Chaconne in G Handel manages to cover 21 variations in about 7 minutes.  The opening statement is majestic with full chords and brilliant ornamentation.  The variations maintain a consistent pattern, but with increasing rhythmical activity until the tempo slows to an adagio.  The original tempo soon returns, and brilliant runs and arpeggios build momentum through the final variations to provide an exhilarating finish.

Rodrigo – Invocación y danza for guitar

Joaquín Rodrigo was a Spanish composer and virtuoso pianist best known for his guitar music – he was certainly largely responsible for raising the Spanish guitar to dignity as a universal concert instrument.  Blinded by diphtheria at the age of 3 he wrote his compositions in Braille, which was transcribed for publication.

His Invocación y danza (Invocation and dance) is subtitled Homenaje a Manuel de Falla (Homage to Manuel de Falla) and this tribute quotes passages from the earlier composer’s scores.  The music begins softly with bell-like notes becoming more animated with urgent tremolos until the start of the dance section relieves the tension.  It is a graceful skipping dance, with a tremolo section that winds down into material reminiscent of the Invocation’s opening.

De Falla – El Amor Brujo

The great Spanish nationalist composer, Manuel de Falla was one of the first composers from the European classical tradition to incorporate Gitano (Spanish Gypsy) flamenco elements into his work.  Indeed, the original version of El Amor Brujo (Love, the Magician) was the result of a commission for a gitanería (gypsy piece) by a renowned flamenco dancer.

Originally scored for cantaora voice (flamenco singer), actors and chamber orchestra, it was not a success when performed in 1915 – reviewers, probably harbouring anti-gypsy prejudice, complained that it was “not very Spanish”.  The following year the composer revised the work for symphony orchestra, with three short songs for mezzo-soprano and, in 1924, he transformed the work into a ballet.  It is this, somewhat sanitised, version of the work that is best known today although the piano suite from the ballet, arranged by the composer some years later, is also well known.  The most popular piece in the work is Danza Ritual del Fuego (Ritual Fire Dance) which, played out of sequence, will form an exciting conclusion to the extracts we are to hear tonight.

We start with a brief introduction which, in the orchestral version, is essentially a trumpet fanfare with timpani.  It will be interesting to hear how this is replicated on guitars.  This is followed by the Dance of Terror which is vigorous with a rather angular rhythm.  We then have a calm, peaceful interlude, The Magic Circle, which could almost be a product of the English pastoral tradition.  The following Pantomime starts with a repeat of the trumpet fanfare of the Introduction followed by another calm episode of sombre mood.  We then have a very pleasant Italianate-sounding, free-flowing melody that becomes more rhythmic as it flows along.  The sombre mood returns and the movement fades into silence.

As previously mentioned we get the famous Ritual Fire Dance as the final movement for dramatic effect – or to send us home exhilarated!  Flurrying sounds of flames form a backdrop to the famous theme, we will all recognise, as it is repeated many times with varying intensities.  If it was intended to send us home exhilarated – it is bound to succeed!