“G Plus? Well I didn’t know what it meant either. Basically it was Tom Kerstens idea to merge the classical guitar with other instruments and then commission and therefore promote new, stimulating music for these combinations to further the guitar repertoire. Hence on this recording alongside Tom Kerstens is the excellent classical guitarist Amanda Cook, a multiple winner of prestigious guitar competitions; Dan Gresson, on of the UK’s more sought after percussionists; and one of Britain’s leading young string quartets, the Tippett Quartet. That’s how we arrive at G(uitar) plus Ensemble.
The programme is divided between the music of British composer Joby Talkbot and New Zealander John Metcalfe and begins with eight individual works by Talbot for two guitars, string quartet and percussion. Space in this review does not permit detailed writing about each of the individual items but it is really helpful and informative to read what Talbot writes about the works in the G Plus Ensemble website. This insight into the thoughts are a superb supplement to the compositions and enhance the listening pleasure.
The music of John Metcalfe is first heard on this disc with his The Third Fire, a trio of titled pieces conceived for solo guitar and electronic digital delay. The three segments refer to the composer’s experiences whilst he was a member of the English post-punk band The Durutti Column, in the mid-1980’s and in this trio Kerstens displays his expertise in the art of playing the digital delay.
Scored for just one guitar and sting quartet, perhaps the most profound track, certainly the most emotive one, comes at the conclusion of the programme with Metcalfe’s tombeau-styled composition As She Fell, a work in which Metcalfe imagines the moment of his own mother’s death. Even though it has distressing connotations, this tragic, heart-rendering work is beautiful and very touching. Although As She Fell brings the programme to a somewhat sorrowful and depressing end, there was really nowhere else for it to go on this programme, nothing could follow this.
This is music that will appeal to everyone with a taste for contemporary music written to a very high degree and given performances which in all probability could not be bettered, or indeed anyone with taste, full stop. A simply stunning new album – very highly recommended indeed.”
Steve Marsh – Classical Guitar Magazine 06/11
“Joby Talbot combines both art rock and classical in his music, something the enterprising Dutch guitarist Tom Kerstens was keen to harness with commissions for his excellent ensemble G Plus. Utopia is an inventive, eight-movement work that fuses driving minimalism in the style of Michael Nyman with poppy, shimmering strings and beguiling harmonies. John Metcalfe’s music, particularly The Third Fire for guitar and digital delay, is more mainstream classical – modal harmonies and syncopated rhythms lend a Spanish/Latin feel: Albeniz or Villa-Lobos scattered by a dazzling, 21st-century prism. More extensive booklet notes would have been welcome.”
EB – CLASSIC FM 06/10
“Tom Kerstens and his genre-defying G Plus Ensemble are in their perfect place.
This is not a ‘classical’ CD as such: in fact, it defies easy categorisation. Both Joby Talbot and John Metcalfe are composers whose practices straddle numerous genres – for example, the former was a member of cult band The Divine Comedy, the latter a viola player with post-punk Manchester band the Durutti Column. And yet there’s a definite minimalist aesthetic running through these atmospheric works, all of which were commissioned by that tireless proselytiser for the contemporary classical guitar, Tom Kerstens for his G Plus Ensemble.
From the obsessive ostinatos and tricky syncopations of Talbot’s Utopia through the same composer’s radiant First Day of Summer and Latin-inflected Iliac Crest to Metcalfe’s superb The Third Fire, a triptych for solo guitar and digital delay, and the sombre, elegiac As She Fell, this is music that for the most part eschews complicated musical development in favour of hypnotic cascades of sound and visceral, rhythmically vibrant accretions. Kerstens and friends play with a precision that seems to grow out of the nature of the material rather than being imposed on it – interpretation at its most natural. It’s also great to hear Kerstens on bass guitar, as the music sometimes requires.
As Kerstens says in his booklet-note, “Rather than engaging in dubious ‘cross-over’ projects I wanted music that, whilst incorporating pop, rock, jazz and classical elements, simply is ‘itself’: expressive, individual and open to a potentially wide audience.” Mission accomplished.”
William Yeoman – GRAMOPHONE 10/10
“Kerstens likes to commission composers whose experience derives from beyond the boundaries of classical music. Joby Talbot was a member of the wryly-humorous Divine Comedy, whilst John Metcalfe, now with the Duke Quartet, played viola for the eclectically-influenced Durutti Column. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the range of their inspiration is wide, embracing echoes of rock, Minimalism and ‘world music’ as well as the conservatoire.
Curiously, Metcalfe uses modern technology (a digital delay, applied sparingly) for his most traditional sounding piece, The Third Fire, where he draws on the gestures and emotional milieu of Spanish/classical guitar. Both composers contribute music that is atmospheric, accessible, and very pleasant to listen to.
Nonetheless, perhaps unreasonably, I felt these pieces were a little disappointing compared to several of Talbot’s earlier works, such as Path of Miracles, with their greater emotional clout and inventive development of material.”
Barry Witherden – BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE