Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 1; Symphonic Dances. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, The Philadelphia Orchestra. Deutsche Grammophon 483 9839.
Pat Metheny: Road to the Sun. Metheny: Four Paths of Light; Road to the Sun; Arvo Part: Fur Alina. Jason Vieaux and Pat Metheny, guitar; Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (John Dearman, Matthew Greif, William Kanengiser, Scott Tennant). Modern Recordings 538639322.
Each month, the final page of BBC Music Magazine features an interview titled “Music That Changed Me,” in which some public figure, typically someone connected with the arts, is asked about the music that has had a significant influence in the course of their life. Imagine my surprise – and joy! – when I reached the final page of the most recent issue to reach my humble abode (May 2021) and saw a photo of a smiling, curly-headed American guitarist by the name of Pat Metheny. What a wonderful surprise! The interviewees are always asked to list a few key recordings, and Metheny’s list of five pieces began with three that were not particularly surprising: “And I Love Her” by the Beatles (as a teenager he loved George Harrison’s guitar work, and later in his career he recorded the piece himself on acoustic guitar), “Seven Step to Heaven” by Miles Davis (Metheny says that his brother brought home Davis’s Four and More album and that “hearing this cut was like being hit over the head by a two-by-four, and instant life-changing moment. At the time I didn’t know anything about form and chord changes, I just heard the sound…”), and Wes Montgomery’s “If You Could See Me Now” (which Metheny says contains “the greatest guitar solo of all time, including Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Segovia”). His next selection was something of a surprise, Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians (Metheny notes that “among the best phone calls I ever got was Steve Reich asking me to play his solo work for electric guitar, Electric Counterpoint. I’d been a fan for years: his Music for 18 Musicians changed everything – Steve had somehow captured the worldwide polar-magnetic shift from triple to duple time”). But it was his final choice that really surprised me, none other than Furtwangler’s recording of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (“Filling in blanks, particularly in the world of written music, is an ongoing process for me. I’m lucky to live across the street from Lincoln Center in New York and I had the chance to see Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde conducted by Sir Simon Rattle at the Met. It was a life-changing experience to rival ‘Seven Steps to Heaven.’ I knew the piece because it is famous in my world as being this four-hour exploration of a minor seventh, flat five chord, of the ‘Tristan’ chord. I went three night in a row, and each night it just got better”). I really did not see that one coming…
Something else that I did not see coming was that the next recording that Metheny would release after From This Place would be his first release ever to feature his work not as a performer, but rather as a composer. The album leads off with classical guitarist Jason Vieaux performing a Metheny composition for solo guitar titled Four Paths of Light. Naturally enough, the composition comprises four parts, each possessing a depth of expression and emotion that long-time listeners of Metheny’s music will recognize; however, Vieaux’s style of playing and the sound of his guitar does come across as more traditionally classical most of the time – still, there are passages where you can really hear Metheny ringing through. The next composition is the title piece, Road to the Sun, a six-part work written for and performed by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (with some “guest strumming” by Metheny on a couple of the parts). This is of course a more ambitious undertaking, more complex in structure, more formal sounding, but not without phrases that make you think that yes, this sounds like something that Pat Metheny could have composed. It truly is a delightful work, one that rewards repeated listening.
The album closes with a bonus track, and once again I can honestly say that just like I never see it coming that Pat Metheny would list Furtwangler conducting Tristan and Isolde as one of his favorite recordings, neither did I ever foresee him playing an Arvo Pärt tune on one of his recordings, but Road to the Sun concludes with Metheny offering a haunting version of Pärt’s Für Alina on his custom-made 42-string guitar. My friends, hearing Pat Metheny, one of my all-time favorite musicians, play the music of Arvo Pärt, one of my all-time favorite composers, on his amazing instrument with its incredible range of sounds made me feel that my life was now complete and had not been lived entirely in vain. To be sure, this recording may not have anywhere near the same profound sort of spiritual effect on you, but still, there is some genuinely fine music here that I can recommend without reservation.
Images of Metheny. Jason Vieaux, guitar. Azica Records ACD 71233.