Longtime Metropolitan Opera guitarist and lutenist, versatile and award winning composer, and mentor and teacher to generations of guitarists, Frederic Hand has enjoyed an impressive and impactful career on many levels. His latest release, Odyssey, features his signature brand of compositions and his fluid, expressive playing. In an era where the performer/composer has been making a much written about comeback, Hand represents someone who has been occupying this role with great success steadily for decades. His compositions defy easy categorization – they draw from various styles including early music, Irish music, new age, contemporary composition, and jazz.
|01||Cantiga de Santa Maria|
Cantiga de Santa Maria
Four Sephardic Songs
|03||Introduction/Una Pastora Yo Ami|
Introduction/Una Pastora Yo Ami
|04||Ah, El Novio No Quere Dinero|
Ah, El Novio No Quere Dinero
|06||A La Una Yo Naci|
A La Una Yo Naci
|07||The Water is Wide|
The Water is Wide
|Frederic Hand, David Leisner||12:39|
|11||A Psalm of Thanksgiving|
A Psalm of Thanksgiving
|Frederic Hand, Jayna Nelson||9:15|
|12||Ballet and Dance of the Blessed Spirits|
Ballet and Dance of the Blessed Spirits
Hand’s eclectic stylistic range is matched by his appetite for drawing from diverse sources of inspiration. Cantiga de Santa Maria is based on a collection of songs from the 13th century. Hand was attracted to the modal melodies and irregular meters, and created a modern harmonic setting highlighting material over a droning pedal point. The poignant Prayer was originally written as a guitar duo, and was popularized when superstar guitarist John Williams released a solo recording of it in 2014. Inspired by Bachian counterpoint, Hand weaves an elegant melodic line through different voices in this touching composition.
His Four Sephardic Songs are based on timeless songs from the strain of the Jewish diaspora that existed for centuries in the Iberian Peninsula. Hand has arranged many more songs from this rich source for various instrumentations, and includes four of his favorites here for solo guitar.
Listeners will certainly recognize the famous 17th century Scottish melody, The Water is Wide, played here in an evocative arrangement including deft harmonizations and an improvised middle section. Another longtime guitarist/composer and figure familiar to guitar lovers, David Leisner, joins Hand on the title track, the longest piece on the disc. Written originally for the Greek guitar duo Evangelos and Liza, the work alternates between lush, pulsating chords and lyrical melodic passages before arriving at a vigorously strummed climactic passage. Sophia’s Journey is dedicated to Hand’s granddaughter and inspired by her movements as an infant. There is affinity generally between Hand’s style and that of the jazz nylon string guitarist and composer Ralph Towner in his solo projects, and this track stands out to this writer’s ears as particularly Towneresque. For Julian was written in 2007 for a concert at the 92nd Street Y celebrating Julian Bream, Hand’s teacher when he was on a Fulbright Scholarship as a student in England. It was originally composed for the eight course lute, but is heard here on the guitar, which affords greater timbral variety. A Psalm of Thanksgiving is based on Psalm 100 from the Old Testament, and is a byproduct of an association Hand had with a group of composers who were exploring connections between music and philosophy. Hand closes with his arrangement of Gluck’s well known Ballet and Dance of the Blessed Spirits. Beautifully and stately, it is a fitting finish to this thoughtful and deeply felt release.
Producer: Dave Cook and Frederic Hand
Recorded by Dave Cook, Frederic Hand, and Julie Last
Guest Artists: David Leisner (guitar); Jayna Nelson (flute)
Tracks 1, 2, 4-7, 9, 10, and 12 recorded at Area 52 studios, Saugerties, NY
Track 3 recorded at Coldbrook Productions, Bearsville, NY
Track 11 recorded at Willow Music, Woodstock, NY
Cover photo by Ray Volkmann
Additional photography and graphic design by David Aday
Noted for his unique performances of early music, Frederic Hand is the creator and director of Jazzantiqua, a group The New York Times has described as “scintillating and brilliant.” He was a Fulbright Scholar to England and a student of Julian Bream. Appointed the Metropolitan Opera’s guitarist and lutenist in 1984, he has accompanied Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and many other renowned singers.
Hand’s original scoring for television includes Sesame Street, As the World Turns, and The Guiding Light, for which he was awarded an Emmy. His playing and improvisations have been heard on the scores of numerous films, including those starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Robert DeNiro in This Boy’s Life, Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep in Kramer vs Kramer and Sean Connery in The Next Man. Television performances include appearances with Meg Ryan, Marisa Tomei and Julianne Moore. His arrangement and performance of the theme for the film “Kramer vs. Kramer” led to his own best selling recording for Sony, “Baroque and On the Street.”
Guest appearances include the New York Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Mostly Mozart Festival, Marlboro Music Festival and the Caramoor Festival with the Orchestra of St. Lukes. For his recording and performances with flutist Paula Robison, he won the Classical Recording Foundation’s “Samuel Sanders Award.”
"Technique and artistry combine in classical guitarist Frederic Hand to give us a wondrous set on his recent solo guitar album Odyssey (New Focus/Willow 1036). It features his own compositions and special arrangements of a wide variety of music. His beautiful harmonic-melodic arpeggiated and articulated ways are put to very memorable use on his composition "Prayer," which is as much a kind of Bach tribute as it is a modern spiritual wish-hope-prayer. His arrangement of the 13th century "Canta de Santa Maria" contrasts nicely with "Four Sephardic Songs" and the spiritual "The Water is Wide." Frederic has the knack of getting to the melodic-harmonic essentials and varying everything very musically. So the case with these pieces. And that's only the first four selections in this album. He continues on in the same eclectic and striking vein, a guitarist who brings out the beauty of his instrument in ways that may at times take your breath away. It is a very stirring set of work played with superb artistry.
Can I just suggest you grab this album now? Do it! Hand is a guitarist of brilliance." - Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar, 8.3.2016
I have been seriously super privileged enough to be invited to review the latest recording from guitarist and composer extraordinaire, Frederic Hand. Being a huge fan of Hand’s this review was one I was really relishing even more than normal! And I wasn’t disappointed. For those who are not familiar with Frederic Hand (you really should be!) he was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1947. He is a graduate of th e High Sch ool of Music and Art in New York City and the Mannes College of Music. He was a Fulbright Scholar to England and a student of Julian Bream. His solo performances in North and South America and Europe have received the highest critical acclaim. The New York Times wrote: “He played unerringly, with all the verve and spirit that one could ask.” Appointed the Metropolitan Opera’s guitarist and lutenist in 1984, he has performed with Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Renee Fleming and many other renowned singers . His scores for television earned him an Emmy Award, and his arrangement and performance of the theme for the film “Kramer vs. Kramer” led to his own best selling recording for Sony, “Baroque and On the Street.” He is the creator of Jazzantiqua, a group the New York Time described as “scintillating and brilliant,”and has also recorded for BMG and the Music Heritage Society. He has been an Affiliate Artist with the State Arts Councils of New Yorks, Arizona, California, Colorado, and Washington. Hand’s guest appearances include the New York Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Mostly Mozart Festival, Marlboro Music Festival and the Caramoor Festival with the Orchestra of St Lukes. For his recording and performances with flutist Paul Robison, he won the Classical Recording Foundation’s Samuel Sanders Award.
So not too shabby at all really. You can say he’s done a thing or two and knows his way reasonably around a guitar!Read More
Well. Where to begin?! This recording is as varied in its styles as it is stunning in its execution. The recording is primarily a set of Hand’s original compositions (with the addition of one of his boyhood favourites – more on that below), with influences from jazz, medieval music, Spain, contemporary classical, Bach and myriad other influences including his wee granddaughter.
It’s clear that Hand is as equally a talented a guitarist as he is composer (in case you were in any doubt with such a biography as that above!). There is some seriously accomplished playing on Odyssey. Hand’s tone quality is absolutely fantastic, and his range of tonal colours throughout the various pieces is actually really refreshing. It’s so good to be able to hear very clearly differing colours so vividly and clearly defined. If you’re looking for examples of tonal variation and what it could and should sound like this recording should be on the list.
His dolce tones are rich and fat and full-bodied. Check out his rendition of Gluck’s Ballet and Dance of the Blessed Spirits (the only non-original composition on the recording, and a boyhood favourite apparently). Aside from the beautifully lyrical playing I nearly wept with the sheer beauty of the tone Hand milks from his instrument in this piece. Oh my goodness, you simply have to listen to it. Divine stuff. And it’s not all about the voluptuous, rich, fat tones either. Hand produces some fantastic ponticello highlights; in some spots you can almost sympathetically feel the hard tension in your right hand of that playing up right next to the bridge (Four Sephardic Songs: Ah, El Novio No Quere Dinero for example). I love the quality the more ponti style of playing brings to the medieval Cantiga de Santa Maria. Clear, bell-like playing supporting a drone bass, with a wonderful dancing melody that conjures up images of fair maidens dancing at some medieval courtly feast.
There are so many fantastic pieces on this recording it’s really quite difficult to pick a favourite. Prayer would have to be up there though. Beautiful. Just beautiful. Lyrical melody, lush harmonies delivered by Hand’s gorgeous playing. Prayer was written for guitar duo and first performed by Hand with Benjamin Verdery. According to Hand it was one of those pieces that seemed to pop out fully formed, written in one sitting. The piece was deeply influenced and inspired by the music of J.S. Bach, to whom the piece is dedicated. It was apparently a performance of a Vivaldi/ Bach keyboard concerto by John Williams on a single guitar that inspired Hand to create a solo version of Prayer that we hear on this recording. Another particular highlight for me are the Four Sephardic Songs, the first two of which (Introduction/ Una Pastora Yo Ami and Ah, El Novio No Quere Dinero) particularly struck me – Spanish-inflected, melancholic elegance in the first and slightly off-kilter, make-you-sit-up-and-listen harmonies and so well placed molto ponticellocolour highlights in the second. I listen to a lot of recordings, as anyone who follows my blog regularly will probably understand. My advice is this: If you only buy one classical guitar album this year make sure it’s this one. - Nicole Neal, Classical Guitar N'Stuff, 8.22.2016
How do I love Odyssey? Let me count the ways. There's, first, the eclectic breadth of the material on this splendid recording, with classical, folk, jazz, early music, and Irish music among the styles featured. I also love it for the captivating sound of Frederic Hand's classical (nylon-stringed) guitar playing, the seeming effortlessness with which the Brooklyn-born guitarist executes the album's pieces, almost all of them originals by Hand. His sensitivity of touch, sense of time, and technical command are consistently evident, and one comes away from Odyssey feeling as if one has spent an hour in the company of an extraordinarily gifted musician. Adding to the release's appeal is its handsome packaging, itself enhanced by in-depth notes by Hand on the compositions performed.
His CV is extensive and impressive, but for simplicity's sake, a brief overview of his accomplishments will suffice. The one-time Fulbright Scholar and student of Julian Bream (in fact,Odyssey includes “For Julian,” Hand's 2007 tribute to his former teacher) was appointed the Metropolitan Opera's guitarist and lutenist in 1984 (a position he still holds) and has created original scores for television (Sesame Street, As the World Turns, The Guiding Light) and has been heard on the scores to numerous films (This Boy's Life, Kramer vs Kramer). In addition, Hand has also shared his expertise as a mentor and teacher with countless other guitarists.
Hand's focus on Odyssey isn't soloing, though soloing does appear, perhaps most conspicuously on “Sophia's Journey,” dedicated to his granddaughter and inspired by her strong personality and movements as a six-month-old. What's primarily on display is musicianship and craft, of which there is plenty. The recording's timeless quality is highlighted at the outset by “Cantiga de Santa Maria,” a medieval-sounding setting Hand originally wrote for his Jazzantiqua ensemble and which is based on songs from the 13th century. One can't help but be captivated by the clarity of the playing and the precision with which Hand executes the layered patterns, even when it's easy to be swept away by the stately dancing figures spiraling before one's ears. In similar manner, he based his Four Sephardic Songs on material originating from the Iberian Peninsula, and a strong Spanish character is audible in the guitarist's articulation of the songs' melodies. Here too it's impossible not to be dazzled by the effortlessness of the technical command, how he's able to switch from rapid fingerpicking to aggressive strums in an instant, for example. The sensitivity of his touch also comes through in his rendering of the gentle “Prayer,” for which Bach provided inspiration; Hand's expert handling of tempo is also evident in the graceful unfolding of the lyrical setting's touching melodies. “The Water is Wide” might be a familiar piece to many, but the haunting 17th-century Scottish folksong feels refreshed when treated to such a stirring reading by Hand; also included is a lovely treatment by the guitarist of Gluck's “Ballet and Dance of the Blessed Spirits” to close this superb collection in gorgeous manner.
Though Odyssey is essentially a solo affair, Hand's joined by guests on two pieces, on the title track by fellow guitarist David Leisner and on “A Psalm of Thanksgiving” by flutist Jayna Nelson. The former sees the acoustic players undertaking a winding, twelve-minute journey of varying scenic character replete with dazzling unison passages and lush, contemplative moments. Though the presence of flute on this otherwise fully guitar-based recording might seem anomalous, the delightful charm of “A Psalm of Thanksgiving” trumps any reservations one might have over its inclusion, especially when Nelson's jubilant dance melodies align so sweetly to Hand's equally lively contributions (the entrance of the flute, incidentally, is designed to reflect the opening words of the psalm in question, Psalm 100 from the Old Testament: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord”). In sum, no better introduction to Hand's artistry could be imagined than Odyssey, a triumphant recording of which its creator has every reason to be proud. It lifts one's spirits when music of such considerable quality is brought into the world. - Ron Schepper, textura, 9.29.2016
Unique guitarist/composer takes listeners on a journey
I have always thought the famously eclectic Frederic Hand to be a major composer for the guitar, even though his actual publications are small in number. In that body of work, he has managed to create a sound which is immediately his and utterly unique. His particular brand of harmonies—at times so jazz-like—is especially evident in the slow emotive pieces on this disc, such as his harmonization of the centuries-old Scottish/English folk song The Water Is Wide, or his solo version of his own Prayer, recorded as a duo by John Williams and Tim Kain more than a decade ago. But one sees another side of his work when listening to Cantiga de Santa Maria, his reworking of 13th century songs, or his Four Sephardic Songs, which again hark back to medieval times and alternate between slow, mournful melodies and brash, nearly relentless, and often seemingly flamenco-driven pieces.One of the best from this album is For Julian, originally written on an 8-course Renaissance lute, but now adapted for guitar, and full of Hand’s unexpected harmonies. (Hand studied in England with Julian Bream, on a Fulbright scholarship.) David Leisner’s second guitar on the title track, Odyssey—an extended piece of major importance—and Jayna Nelson’s flute work on the memorable A Psalm of Thanksgiving, are both welcome additions to this beautiful, (mainly) solo album, which highlights the distinctive sound of one of the guitar’s most compelling composers. It’s all fantastically recorded, too, by Dave Cook and Julie Last. —Classical Guitar Magazine, November 2016
How do I love Odyssey? Let me count the ways. There's, first, the eclectic breadth of the material on this splendid recording, with classical, folk, jazz, early music, and Irish music among the styles featured. I also love it for the captivating sound of Frederic Hand's classical (nylon-stringed) guitar playing, the seeming effortlessness with which the Brooklyn-born guitarist executes the album's pieces. His sensitivity of touch, sense of time, and technical command are consistently evident, and one comes away from Odyssey feeling as if one has spent an hour in the company of an extraordinarily gifted musician. - textura, December 2016