Review by Colin Clarke
VAN OVERMEIRE La Forêt. Drie Rivieren • Irina Kulikova (gtr) • KRAMUSICA 003 (40:40)
Winner of the 2008 “Alhambra” International Guitar Competition, Russian guitarist Irina Kulikova has been featured in a number of releases, including a fascinating program on Naxos as a result of that win of Bach (Cello Suite No. 1, arranged for guitar by Kulikova herself), Sor (the Fantasy, op. 7), Castelnuovo-Tedesco (Sonata, op. 77, “Ommaggio a Boccherini”), Gallardo Del Rey (California Suite) and Tárrega; there is also a second Naxos Laureate disc (after winning the Michele Pittaluga competition, also in 2008). Her actual debut album was released in 2005 on Naxos. In 2014 Naxos released her fourth album, Reminiscences of Russia, featuring music by Konstantin Vassiliev, Sergei Rudnev, and Victor Kozlov. Most recently, in 2020, she released the album It’s About the Touch.
On those previous releases, Kulikova exhibited a rare intelligence and sensitivity. Her own transcription of the Bach C-Major Cello Suite, BWV 1007, for solo guitar is absolutely magical, while she offers a real sense of stylistic awareness in Sor’s op. 7 Fantasy without quite eclipsing memories of Sor expert Lou Marinoff (Phoenix: see my interview in Fanfare 40:1). Kulikova’s stylistic range does indeed seem to be notably broad: Her performance of Leo Brouwer’s Variations sur un thème de Django Reinhardt on the 2008 Laureate Naxos disc (the Pittaluga win) is both utterly beautiful and possessed of a real grasp of Brouwer’s sophisticated processes.
Born in Chelyabinsk, Russia, Irina Kulikova is something of a Wunderkind. She was touring Russia by the age of 12. She studied at the Salzburg Mozarteum University and the Gnessin Academy, Moscow, plus the University of Maastricht; she has been based in the Netherlands since 2007, and has won First Prize in six major competitions.
On the current album, Kulikova plays music by the Belgian composer Mark Van Overmeire (who currently resides in Las Vegas). Van Overmeire studied guitar, percussion, and classical harmony in his home town Bruges and jazz harmony at the University of Ghent. Here we have world premiere recordings of his two highly atmospheric and refined guitar suites. The first, La Forêt, begins with a gentle evocation of the scene with “Sous les arbres” (Underneath the trees) before populating the forest with creatures in the charming “Le cri et bruit des animaux” (The calls and sounds of the animals). Kulikova’s delicacy and sensitivity is a thing of beauty in itself, as is her awareness of the power of carefully considered articulation. The intimate recording supports the gentle aura of the music; the idea of a “waterfall cascade” (“Courant de cascade,” the third movement) is purpose-built for the guitar, of course, and indeed sings sweetly here under Kulikova’s fingers; a more Impressionistic breeze wafts through “Le son du vent et des feuilles” (The sound of wind and leaves), while birds sing cheerfully in dotted rhythms in “Les oiseaux chantent tôt le matin” (Birds sing early in the morning). The more reflective “Les belles couleurs de l’automne” (The beautiful colors of fall) brings this nicely balanced suite to a thoughtful close.
The neighboring Suite consists of three (longer) movements: in Dutch, it is entitled Drie Rivieren (it means what you think it does, Three Rivers). The title, and the individual movement titles, are all given in Dutch this time. The first, which translates as “Winding through the jungle,” is certainly (presumably deliberately, given the title) circuitous in its thought-processes. Kulikova sustains the argument well, as she does in “Passing by the Valley of the Kings” with its beautiful, held-breath silences, absolutely a vital part of the music itself. The final “Through the city of light” (I assume that’s referring to Paris, and the river is the Seine) has a most jaunty gait—yes, somewhat Gallic in demeanor, and certainly carefree, even if the ending feels just a touch sudden.
One wonders if Kulikova herself has a resonance with Nature; after all, she chose Konstantin Vassiliev’s Three Forest Paintings on her Reminiscences of Russia Naxos disc, and they are not a million miles away from the atmospherics of the present recording. Given her Naxos presence, it is quite a surprise that this is the first listing Kulikova will enjoy in the Fanfare Archive; but I, for one, would enjoy hearing more of her. Perhaps she could fill some of the gaps in the Sor discography? Just a thought.
This is a disc of well-constructed music that introduces a major guitarist; the recordings (Florida for La Forêt, Belgium for Drie Rivieren) are equally excellent. Colin Clarke