The Classical Guitar Magazine, April 2019
Nova Guitar Duo
German Nelly von Alven and Brazilian Luiz Mantovani met when they were studying at the Royal College of Music in London and then formed the Nova Guitar Duo duo in 2016.One thing that separates them from most duos is their combination of instruments: Nelly plays a conventional six-string classical, and Luiz plays an eight-string “Brahms guitar.”
Their exceptional debut album, Sortilegios (the Spanish word for “spells,” as in magic spells) definitely derives special power from the presence of those extra low strings on Luiz’s guitar, though to his credit it is usually a very subtle addition to the overall sound; very piano-like low-end accents in most cases. But in no way does this relegate him to some subordinate “bass” role in the duo. Sometimes it’s Nelly who is handling the lower registers, which Luiz then chirps above, and there are many instances where where they’ll trade lines in the same registers, or “answer” each other, or then drop into a lovely unison harmony. The duo has tremendous chemistry and synchronicity.
Just three composers are represented on the album, though a substantial amount of time is devoted to each: Manuel de Falla (1876–1946), Federico Mompou (1893–1987), and Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959). And though all three wrote music for guitar (Villa-Lobos the most), the album consists entirely of the Nova duo’s own arrangements of piano pieces by the composers, with the wonderfully lyrical 12-part Cirandinhas by Villa-Lobos claimed as the first guitar-duo arrangement of the full work. I like Luiz Montovani’s description in the liner notes of what binds the composers together in the duo’s eyes:
“The three composers chosen for the Nova Guitar Duo’s debut album have many things in common: They were all born around the last quarter of the 19th century and thus experienced first-hand the huge political and social transformations that took place in the early 20th century; they all engaged with Modernism to a greater or lesser degree, nevertheless retaining a deep connection with Romanticism; they all valued the folklore and popular traditions of their native countries and incorporated them into their music; and they all composed for the guitar, although the core of their oeuvre remains music written for voice, other instruments and ensembles.”
It turns out to be a great combination of composers. Falla’s Danza ritual del fuego is the best-known work on the whole album (popular with guitar duos since Bream and Williams mastered it), but it’s much more rare to hear the four movements that precede it in the Suite from El Amor Brujo; indeed, hearing the suite in full makes the Danza feel even more like the exciting culmination of a deeper, more textured “story.” Three of the 15 Canción y danza pieces Mompou composed over a more than 50-year period are here, each different from the other in character and a lovely little jewel in itself. Their version of Cancion y Danza No. 6 was one of our Video Pick of the Week choices in the spring of 2018. And I love the nods to the Baroque in No. 5. The aforementioned Cirandinhas, written as a piano cycle in the mid-1920s, could not be more charming. The notes explain that Villa-Lobos based the work on children’s tunes, but don’t be fooled by that—there’s a deceptive complexity to these “simple” tunes.
Suite from El Amor Brujo: Intoducción y Pantomima, Danza del terror, Romance del pescador, A media noche—Sortilegios; Danza ritual del Fuego (de Falla); Four by Mompou: Canción y danza No. 6, Pajaro triste, Canción y danza No. 2, Canción y danza No. 5; Cirindinhas (12 parts) (Villa-Lobos)
The album can be purchased and/or streamed through Amazon and iTunes/Apple Music, bought in Europe through Italy’s Stradivarius label, or streamed through Spotify.