Two Guitarists Transforming Mozart

Sep 23, 2019

The HK Guitar Duo take their guitars to the limit in a celebration of the miracle of Mozart, and it’s WCRB’s CD of the Week!

It might be hard to wrap your mind around the idea of a complete Mozart symphony played, not by a full orchestra, but by just two guitars. But Canadian guitarists Drew Henderson and Michael Kolk have the chops and imagination to pull it off. They also have serious analytical know-how and a passion for Mozart.

Four years after meeting at the University of Toronto, Henderson and Kolk were taking a break during a recording session. They found themselves playfully improvising on the opening tune of Mozart’s 40th Symphony. It must have been a joyous kind of release, as it planted a seed that would grow into their third recording eleven years later. Working originally from Hummel’s transcription of the symphony for piano, the duo’s uncountable revisions over a decade led them to a final, faithful version of the score that features an eight-string guitar to accommodate Mozart’s dramatic, multi-layered genius.

Transcriptions for small forces can wind up sounding like an X-ray of a piece. But it’s a delightful kind of intimacy that this duo brings forward, and expression and character stay intact. It’s amazing to hear how brilliantly the 40th Symphony is put together. The guitar’s inherently warm sound has no trouble navigating all of Mozart’s shifting tides. The opening measures are so nicely phrased and propulsive – you know you’re in good hands.

Also on this album, Mozart's duo for violin and viola works beautifully within the guitar’s sound world. So does the CD’s closer: the adventurous and darkly-lit 8th piano sonata. The Duo found an arrangement for two violins and worked from there. They give it incredible color, and their thoughtful changes of touch and dynamics make it work in an irresistible way.

Here’s the opening of the 40th Symphony:

For more information and to purchase this album, visit the HK Guitar Duo's online store.