Pocket Fantasies, For Solo Guitar (Fellow Guitar Music Collection Volume 2) by Thomas Fellow.
Published by Schott. ED 22597
When a player and teacher of Thomas Fellow’s calibre writes a book of music, the guitar world should notice. He is a guitar professor at the Carl Maria Von Weber University Of Music in Dresden, has written a well-received (German) tutor book and played alongside such giants as Pavel Steidl and Zoran Dukic. He’s a leader and innovator with a strong creative streak and his zest for all things guitar and musical seems inexhaustible.
This Pocket Fantasies is a book of his own compositions ranging from the didactic intermediate stage Kaleidoscope to the seriously challenging and advanced later Tarantula. The final pieces are perhaps not so pertinent to the general work of EGTA(UK) members, but if ever you felt bored by the standard fayre, then they would re-kindle your fire and passion for this instrument.
Of Kaleidoscope Thomas says in the introduction: “Kaleidoscope is a collection of (ten) fairly easy pieces… As a child I had a kaleidoscope and was surprised to see how differently each configuration looked, although the number of pieces was clearly finite“. He entitles them Views – each swivel offering a different vista.
First View is very idiomatic and sits under the hands beautifully; quite simply – it’s superb guitar writing. The Second View has a hint of the 1st Leo Brouwer simple study about it, but it’s more whimsical and Third View has a strongly characterised theme and deep brooding bass sonorities. Fourth View has a dialogue between units of two and three and Fifth View is dark and distinctive. The language is tonal in so much as that there are focal points of sound around which the lines move, but it’s not conventional in its harmonic language which some may find challenging – however, the guitaristic writing makes it all sit comfortably and logically within basic hand movements.
The remainder from Sixth View to Last View comprise fun pieces with quirky semiquavers, pedal points and dark chords, right-hand work outs, and rocky sliding and slurring pieces. These joyful pieces will grow on player and teacher as they get into them. The strangeness will move away and the idiomatic appeal will shine through.
Two Tiny Feet are short (but equal length) pieces, inspired by Thomas’s daughter’s feet. Left has a pretty tune with offbeat accompaniments which bounces along happily, whilst Right feels quite ‘riffy’.
Fabula is a melancholic but enchanting piece; a couple of fingering ‘typo.s’ appear, but it’s well-crafted and conceived.
The difficulty begins to be ramped up in Zoo Tales as he uses the guitar to describe various creatures. A Bumblebee’s Secret is beguiling and beautifully written; A Beetle’s Waltz has a stress known as an Agogic accent, which is perceived solely because of prolongation of note duration rather than increased volume or pitch variation. Indications like “voluptuous” suggest an eroticism. Two other highlights are the dark and chordal A Seal’s Memories and the pretty A Butterfly’s Lullaby. It isn’t so common to be playing music which is conceived really well on the guitar. Despite the sometimes-dissonant approach, the logic and musicality call out loud and clear. Zoo Tales is masterful guitar writing and well within reach of the upper-grade player.
Thomas has an interest in astronomy and science fiction and this manifests itself here in a collection of pieces devoted to suns, planets, nebulae and sunrise. Sirius B is well-written with a constant 2nd and 1st string reinforcing an E tonality. It is music conceived for guitar and unlikely to sound so impressive if ever transcribed; once again the attention to detail is impressive including one of my favourite techniques – playing with the index finger on a lower string than the thumb in order to facilitate speed and ease of execution. Aldebaran also has an ostinato tonic/dominant under-pinning theme, but this time with an ear-worm-type rhythm.
Thomas requests that this should stay dynamically constant and the waves of crescendo should be focussed on the melody above… thus make it a good intermediate challenge for an aspiring student. Orion is a beautiful across-string creation which, if played softly as the composer wishes, creates a magical effect. Nemesis starts with a thumping motif on string 6 which sounds like a heavy-metal riff; the menacing mood relents into a Mars-esque romantic moment (think of Holst’s piece after the 5/4 opening to understand this reference) but the martial mood returns and gets augmented by across-string strums above a tonic pedal point. The tutta-forza finish I think reinforces the notion that Holst’s ‘Planet Suite‘ was an influence here !
Andromeda alternates artificial harmonics with natural notes and is harder to play than it sounds; something guitarists generally don’t like. Wega juxtaposes rhythmical flourishes with points of repose but has a central section illustrative of how Thomas is capable of dreaming up hooky riff-like ideas which are wonderful fun to play. Alpha Centauri would re-pay the effort to learn and Sunrise is a lexicon of gorgeous guitar sonorities as it meanders from D major to minor tonality and back – bringing this suite to a state of repose. It’s highly imaginative, crafted and impressive.
Thomas’s settings of Four German Folksongs at times offer more a scent of a melody than a fully-harmonised eight or twelve-bar tune, but such is the grace of the writing that perhaps a scent is more tantalising? The Moon is a enchantingly-set example which settles into a rhythmically-shunted ostinato pattern based loosely on an augmented sixth harmony. A Man Stands In The Forest sets the child-like tune with quirky raised tonic chords: Consider the notes Eb, A, D and F sharp not as a chord built on Eb, but as a D chord with a raised tonic.
The Linden Tree had a curious journey: from Schubert’s setting in Winterreise to an arrangement by Friedrich Silcher (which became a German folk song) and now to a free-ranging fantasy which uses the falling minor 3rd interval to become a seed of growth in Thomas’s imaginative handling. The King’s Children, takes the head of the folk melody and, with Latin-esque rhythms and descending bass chromaticism, moves a long way from the original.
These are not didactic pieces and in that regard, they begin to fall outside the scope of this review, but Thomas’s approach of brilliantly thought-through and worked-out realisations, acts like a ‘leitmotif’ through his work and it is on confident display here.
The same is true of the last pieces: Minotaur, Tarantula and Fancy Dances. With left-hand tapping, big dynamic ranges, string-slapping and palm-muting all on display, these are pieces for the concert platform rather than the classroom. At the same time they are exciting and vibrant – it’s a pity conservatoire students are not more familiar with them.
To sum up, this is one of the richest books to come across this reviewer’s desk in a long time. We are in the company of a guitar master with a meticulous attention to fingering detail – very often there is only one way to play the music and Thomas’s care, in telling exactly how to so do, is as refreshing as it is rare. If you have intermediate students looking for music which works ‘out-of-the-box’, then this book has to be top of your shopping list. The contents could well challenge many teachers too !