Frederic Hand: Across Time

About

Guitarist/composer Frederic Hand's Across Time is an album of original compositions composed over several decades that draws its inspiration from diverse traditions and musical languages. Including vocal settings of texts by William Shakespeare and the Italian philosopher Marsilio Ficino alongside Hand's characteristically eclectic solo guitar compositions, including the re-release of two of his early works Trilogy and Late One Night, this new collection will appeal to fans of guitar music that reaches out to various sources of inspiration.

Audio

Guitarist and composer Frederic Hand releases his third recording with New Focus, this time on the newly minted ReEntrant imprint focusing on guitar recordings. Hand stands out among guitarists of his generation for the breadth and depth of his activity — he was appointed the guitarist for the Metropolitan Opera in 1984, has appeared at many prominent festivals, and his compositions have been performed and recorded by major guitar soloists and ensembles, as well as on film and television. Across Time is a compendium of Hand’s work spanning 35 years and demonstrating both the evolution of his eclectic compositional style as well as consistent elements of his artistic voice.

The opening two tracks on the recording are the only works included that are dedicated to other guitarists, João Luiz and Federico Díaz respectively, but both are heard here in performances by Hand. Renewal is a pandemic era composition, traversing through a range of emotions. Opening with introspective harmonics and a poignant melody, the work travels through an unsettled samba, becoming increasingly agitated before a guardedly optimistic light shines through. Argentine guitarist Federico Díaz is a scholar and advocate for the music of Piazzolla, and Hand tapped into his specialized performance practice for Ballade for Astor Piazzolla. The work is characterized by the melancholy expressivity of tango blended with rich harmonic choices, reflective of Piazzolla’s influence as well as Hand’s characteristic polystylism. The Passionate Pilgrim switches gears, using Shakespeare and the English Renaissance as a source of inspiration. A lilting melodic figure is embellished and varied upon in the manner of Renaissance divisions.

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Three accompanied songs are included in the program, featuring soprano Lesley Hand. The Poet’s Eye is from a speech in Midsummer Night’s Dream that extolls the capacity of the poet to animate elements of life, and Hand’s setting captures that sense of poetic wonder. The authorship of 1930’s poem I am” is under dispute, either written by Mary Elizabeth Frye or Clare Harner. Hand sensitively expresses the text which describes how we live on beyond our corporeal bodies through the experiences of our loved ones. There is a Splendor sets a text by Italian Renaissance scholar Marsilio Ficino about spiritual enlightenment. As in the other songs, Hand demonstrates his deference to the text, allowing it to lead the texture and finding coloristic ways to support shades of semantic meaning.

Developed from ideas that emerged from an improvisation, Romantic Etude is a flowing work in three that evokes the gliding lyricism of Antonio Lauro. Waltz for Maurice is inspired by Maurice Ravel, specifically the middle movement of his Piano Concerto in G major. Hand’s voicings reflect the sensuality of Ravel’s chordal palette, and the work is anchored by a simple and poignant melody.

Hand’s arrangement of Simple Gifts captures the expansive Americana spirit of the music of Aaron Copland whose Appalachian Spring made the Shaker song famous. After opening with a swift invocation of the melody with hints of bluegrass, Hand settles into a lyrical reading, with lush harmonies. The arrangement ends with a questioning coda, perhaps a nod to another of Hand’s childhood heroes, Leonard Bernstein.

Trilogy is a three movement work written in 1977 and is reflective of Hand’s fascination with the modern jazz of the time. The flowing first movement, “Moderato,” revels in harmonic corners and detours into quartal harmony and pointed rhythmic material. A pedal point ostinato provides the foundation for a polytonal episode. “Gently” reflects the influence of Bill Evans and Miles Davis, bringing to mind iconic songs like Davis’ Blue in Green. “Allegro” is dynamic, driven by energized, repeated rhythmic cells. A contrasting middle section hearkens back to the lyrical previous movements before a walking bass figure ushers a return to the driving material of the opening and a rousing finish. Like Trilogy, Late One Night was composed in 1977 and reflects the influence of the jazz of that time on Hand’s music. Like nylon string jazz guitarist Gene Bertoncini, Hand takes advantage of the resonance of open strings in his chordal vocabulary.

Across Time closes with Cooper Lake, a sentimental portrait of a location near Hand’s home in Woodstock, NY, and the only track on the recording performed on steel string guitar. Despite the different string composition, the musical composition is vintage Hand, beautifully lyrical, with heartfelt harmonies and a disarming earnestness.

– Dan Lippel

Renewal, Ballade for Astor Piazzolla, and The Passionate Pilgrim were recorded in Area 52 Studios, Saugerties, NY in October, 2021

Recording engineer: Dave Cook; Produced by Frederic Hand and Dave Cook

The Poet’s Eye, I Am, There Is a Splendor, Cooper Lake and Romantic Etude were recorded by Frederic Hand in the mid 1990’s in his home studio, Woodstock, NY

A Waltz for Maurice and Simple Gifts were recorded at Dreamland Recording Studio, West Hurley, NY, in July, 2000
Recording engineer: Sue Kappa; Digital editing: John Yates; Produced by Frederic Hand

Trilogy and Late One Night were recorded at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City, September, 1982
Recording engineer and editor: Judith Sherman; Produced by Judith Sherman

Digital transfer by Gregory Squires, September, 2001

All compositions by Frederic Hand, ASCAP

Published by Handwerks Music and distributed by Theodore Presser and Mel Bay

Classical Guitars by John Gilbert, 1981, Gary Lee, 2012 Steel String Guitar by Bill Wright, 1987

Strings by D’Addario

Cover photo by Zaksheuskaya from Pexels
Cooper Lake photo: Fred Hand

Design: Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com

Frederic Hand

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.”

http://www.frederichand.com/

Lesley Hand

Lesley Hand was born in Richmond, Virginia, and trained at the North Carolina School of the Arts in dance, music and drama. She toured with Lauren Bacall in the musical Applause and appeared in television and films, including Robert Altman’s A Wedding. After she and Fred married, they performed together in concerts of songs from the Elizabethan period, folk music of the British Isles, and Fred’s compositions. She and Fred live in Woodstock, NY.


Reviews

5

Steven Kennedy

Guitarist Fredric Hand gained international attention when he performed on the soundtrack for Kramer vs. Kramer. It is hard to believe that some 30 years has passed since this reviewer first experienced Frederic Hand’s Jazzantiqua album and later Heart’s Song. A student of Julian Bream, Hand carried on that tradition of exploring earlier works for lute and guitar and brought that same language to his original work. He has been performing with the Metropolitan Opera for over four decades. Blending ancient modes and musical gestures with modern instrumentation made these earlier forays an engaging experience. Hand would release other albums that blurred the new distinction between classical and jazz or popular music in what would eventually be lumped into a “New Age” category. In Across Time, Hand provides us with a reminder of his excellent skill and melding classical gestures, ancient modes, and a fine sense of melodic and harmonic development.

Across Time is a collection that includes a nice cross-section of new pieces as well as a couple that have appeared on previous releases. The album opens with three more classical works composed in 2021. “Renewal” kicks things off rather nicely inviting us into the beautiful tonal world and harmonic shifts Hand likes to use. It moves us into an interesting homage and exploration of South American rhythmic ideas in the equally reflective “Ballade for Astor Piazzolla”. His wife, Lesley, joins him for three beautiful songs based on texts by Shakespeare and Marsilio Ficino. The texts and reflective style lend a sort of deeper release that comes on the heels of loss in the wake of COVID these past couple of years. “I Am” is particularly touching. A gorgeous “Romantic Etude” provides another beautiful lyrical melody with Hand’s unique harmonic changes that engage the listener. The same could be said as well of “Waltz For Maurice”. Hand also explores American folk music in his own setting of the Shaker tune, “Simple Gifts”. The album closes with a shift to reflecting on natural beauty in “Cooper Lake”, inspired by his trips to the Catskills.

To help fill out this brief release, we are treated to new re-mastered recordings from his 1982 Trilogy album. These include the three-movement title work and the equally fine “Late One Night” both composed in 1977. These pieces provide a glimpse into the jazz and harmonic styles that marked his work in this period. It helps provide a good arc that connects well with the theme of the album which both shows him thinking and reflecting on the passing of time.

Across Time is its own gift both for those who have followed Hand’s previous releases and for those who may be discovering his work for the first time. It is recorded with a fine ambience that lends the instrument a rich tone without being too close to hear every movement. An intimate album that works quite well as a fine time to take stock and reflect. Lesley Hand’s vocals are equally wonderful with a pure tone that floats above the guitar accompaniment. This album is highly recommended and one you will likely return to often.

— Steven Kennedy, 4.19.2022

5

Midwest Record

Unless you are a committed New York, long hair guitar fan, Hand is one of the most protean guitarists of our age that you’ve heard plenty of but probably have never heard of. His main shot a the mainstream was a new age group that was so progressive the genre couldn’t keep up with it. Other than that, this student of Julian Bream’s that can easily rub elbows with John Williams has caught his breath long enough to look back over the last 40 years here---a voyage you should join him on. Elegant and accessible, this is some of the loveliest solo guitar you are ever going to hear. Easily a rare treat from a master.

— Chris Spector, 4.20.2022

5

Classical Voice of North Carolina

A composition professor in my hometown once spoke about his thoughts on guiding twenty-first century graduate students: he gives them freedom to work and develop on their own terms. Frederic Hand seems to have instinctively adopted this philosophy on his own. This album does not push boundaries or set your teeth on edge. It is a retrospective – a collection of his favorite works.

Frederic Hand, composer, performer, and teacher, has played with the great vocalists of our time: Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Renée Fleming, and others. He has performed with great orchestras for both film and television. His compositions have been performed by John Williams, Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, and more. He was appointed by the Metropolitan Opera as guitarist and luteist in 1984. Formerly head of the guitar department at SUNY Purchase and Bennington College, he currently serves on the faculty of Mannes College of Music at the New School. He is a graduate of Mannes College of Music and studied with Julian Bream while a Fulbright Scholar in England.

Hand studied the classics, including the music of the Renaissance; he listened to modern jazz greats and in the 1980s he started his own fusion performing group Jazzantiqua. The music on this compilation reflects these, and within his eight pages of liner notes, he tips his hat to several influential composers and musicians: Brazilian guitarist Joao Luiz; Aaron Copland, Astor Piazzolla, and Maurice Ravel.

From the cover photo by Zaksheuskaya, the photo of Cooper Lake (FH), with design by Marc Wolf, Hand invites us into his sound world imbued with a rich harmonic vocabulary. It feels like a down comforter, warm but not heavy, sweet without a saccharine after-taste.

Lesley Hand trained at the North Carolina School of the Arts where she studied dance, music and drama. She has a crystal clear soprano voice; especially suited to the Renaissance style called for in "The Poet's Eye," "There is a Splendor," and the poetry of "I Am." The collaboration of voice and guitar adds more color to the palette. I daydreamed about love songs of the troubadours and trouvères.

"Passionate Pilgrim," a commissioned piece, was originally intended for lute. This version for guitar is short and memorable. Placed before "The Poet's Eye," it works like a programmed interlude.

It is impossible to choose a favorite selection, but I was particularly drawn to Hand's most recent works, including the stunning "Renewal" and "Ballad for Astor Piazzola." The rhythmic feel of the Latin influence is stylized, but right there; and I loved the improvisational quality of the ballad. Viva, Nuevo Tango! There is more to enjoy, including the reissued Trilogy (1982). This is beautiful guitar music to savor and listen to again and again. It will occupy a prominent space along with my favorite guitar CDs; I recommend it.

— Karen E. Moorman, 5.15.2022

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