Blackwattle Caprices. Music by Malats, Walton, Ross Edwards, JS Bach, Takemitsu, Tom Waits

Jacob Cordover, classical guitar
Classical, Contemporary, Music, New Music
Cala Records CACD77017
Reviewed by , April 1st, 2016

“Jacob Cordover is an exceptional guitarist and part of his measure is his ability to keep the customer waiting in order to keep the customer satisfied.”

This is particularly the case in the well-known Serenata Española originally composed by Joaquín Malats for piano, but a work lending itself superbly to classical guitar, here arranged by Cordover. The guitarist milks this for the kind of Mediterranean exuberance and passion one expects. He is able to draw on a massive dynamic range, plus his impeccable sense of placement and articulation to achieve the stylistic requirements of this piece.

Jacob Cordover

Cordover displays his broad musical interests on this album and the integrity with which he approaches each diverse piece is a feature. So there is something very personal in his playing. One understands his commitment to each writer’s musical intent.

His interpretation of William Walton, for example, is utterly different to his interpretation of J. S. Bach. The Walton, Five Bagatelles, is a standout. Walton was both criticised and praised in his lifetime, for his musical audaciousness and his lack of it. As he commented, ‘I’ve gone through the first halcyon period and am just about ripe for my critical damnation.’[1]

Cordover is obviously a fan. Again he is able to elicit great expressiveness through a wonderful dynamic range. As with the Malats, his sound placement is meticulously thoughtful. Walton has created great contrasts between the movements and the guitar’s possibilities making the piece, one imagines, a joy to interpret both technically and expressively. The third and fifth movements provide the greatest challenges and for this listener are the most rewarding, Cordover skillfully amplifying the melodies over complex harmonic accompaniments.

Although an expatriate (currently residing in Barcelona), Cordover is obviously still drawn to Australian works. The Ross Edwards is all that one expects from this composer. The opening of Blackwattle Caprices is thoughtful and contemplative like dipping toes into the shallow end to test the temperature. But it takes off exploring the technical possibilities of the guitar with wondrous dexterity of both writer mind and guitarist technique required. There are unique Edwards ‘turns of phrase’ here and it always feels like home hearing them; joie de la nature motifs that remind one of the magpies rustling around to find the required spot to sun themselves in the dust. The second movement is exhilarating in its modal structure and rhythmic and textural complexity and again, Cordover is masterful in bringing out all the flavours here.

But Bach is treated quite differently. He is afforded the attention to detail that Bach requires. Hellishly difficult. How on earth does one navigate a Bach fugue on classical guitar? It is an admirable interpretation, Cordover sustaining the main melodic themes throughout with extraordinary prowess. But it is the Gigue and the Double that are standouts here. Bach in 3s is always sheer bliss!

One of the reasons I wished to review this album was the inclusion of Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, of whose music I am a fan, but lo and behold it is actually Takemitsu’s adaptation for guitar of three ‘standards’: McCartney and Lennon’s Yesterday, Harold Arlen’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Londonderry Air. Takemitsu has dealt with all three with an elegant simplicity – the kind of sparsely intended lines one relishes in the Japanese aesthetic. All are quite muted and just speak with their evergreen melodies, both arranger and performer working their magic to achieve this. There is nothing that suggests anything but the reverence of a composer and performer for other composer/performers.

With that same sense of connection, Tom Waits talks about the wonder of preserving the sounds of past musicians, to be listened to and interpreted much later, often when the original musician is no longer leaving their muddy boots on the mat. His music is a fitting ending to the album – a song written for a play about Alice – yes, that mythical and yet not so mythical figment from ‘Lewis Carroll’. But one imagines it’s also a song by Waits for his wife Kathleen Brennan, the pair one of heaven’s better resolutions. Again, this simple, beautiful melody is captivating in the hands of Cordover whose sense of timing and turn of phrase would make Waits dip his pork pie lid with due respect.


Jacob Cordover

Toru Takemitsu

Ross Edwards

I’m Still Here original by Tom Waits


[1] William Walton


Copyright The Music Trust © 2021