Hidden Gems: Ernst Bacon’s Guitar Music

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

It’s not every day that a substantial body of guitar music by a single composer seemingly emerges from out of nowhere and enriches the repertoire. But that’s the case here, adding up to about an hour’s worth of previously unknown short, accessible, instrumentally idiomatic, and musically rewarding works by Ernst Bacon (1898-1990), an unjustly neglected American composer who deserves mention alongside his better known colleagues Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Roy Harris, and Roger Sessions.

Most of these works were written for the composer’s guitarist son Joseph Bacon, and all but one existed only among the composer’s unedited manuscripts in varying states of detail. The disc opens with a reconstructed suite of four lovely pieces freely based on tunes from George Pulle Jackson’s 1952 anthology “Another Sheaf of White Spirituals”. Next is Toro, whose grand flourishes and rapid scales manage to evoke the sound world of Flamenco without falling into a single cliché. Nuka is lyrical, harmonically unpredictable, and beautifully crafted for the instrument (the ringing harmonics at the beginning, for example).

While the booklet notes characterize Coon Hollow as “a lively, Appalachian-inspired romp,” there’s more than a hint of pure, unadulterated ragtime. Imagine Kurt Weill of the 1920s reharmonizing Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal, and you’ve essentially got Bacon’s spiky take on this venerable American folk song. I especially appreciate the miniature Episode’s gently winding long lines, and how A Walk in the Hills begins with low-register baby steps, and gradually grows more voluble as it ascends to the guitar’s higher strings.

I have no doubt that many hours of preparation and research inform Bradley Colten’s technically immaculate, caring, and gorgeously engineered performances, not to mention his scholarly and well-written annotations. An enjoyable and important release, and not just for guitar fans.



Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

  • Bradley Colten (guitar)

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