A nocturne is a piece of music that is meant to evoke the quality of night. And yet, in what at first seems like a limited definition, there remains a wide opportunity for a great range of expression. The first nocturnes, as the form is commonly understood today, were composed by Irish composer John Field (1782-1837) and defined the form as short character pieces for piano, with the peak of the Romantic nocturne form being realized by Chopin in his 21 Nocturnes for solo piano. In fact, the great majority of nocturnes composed since are works for solo piano, with a lesser repertoire composed for orchestra, and with only a small nocturne repertoire composed for other solo or accompanied instruments. One of the very few nocturnes for solo guitar were composed by Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856) whose 3 Nocturnes for Guitar, Op. 4 were published in 1840. Apart from Mertz’s early works, there have since been very few nocturne compositions for solo guitar. These 24 Nocturnes for solo guitar by composer Nick Peros are perhaps the most expansive collection written for the instrument and showcase the guitar as an instrument perfectly suited for the form.
The expressive range of these 24 Nocturnes is varied and wide, ranging from the fiery passion of No. 1, or the storm of No. 11, to the lyrical sweetness of No. 8 and No. 23, and the sense of haunting, almost ominous mystery of No. 6. Varying and differing shades of nocturnal mystery are expressed in Nos. 3, 5, 7 & 9, with No. 7 coloured by the subtle tonal purity of string harmonics. No. 12 is characterized by a wistful melancholic beauty, with No. 13 being almost a conversation of modalities, while No. 14 and No. 18 unfold respectively as a passionate and subtle drama. Like No. 6, Nocturne No. 20 is very much a chordal piece but in this case all harmonies are heard over a constant pedal tone with the beginning of the work characterized by sweet chordal sonorities, which, as the piece progresses, move into more intense chromatic territory before closing on the original note. Nocturne No. 4 combines swirling passion with moments of peaceful repose, while other works in this set, such as No. 2, No. 15 and No. 16, are characterized by a unique, almost ineffable quality, with No. 16 evoking harp-like sonorities punctuated with wonderful splashes of harmonic colour, setting the stage perfectly for the peaceful beauty of No. 17. Nocturne No. 10 takes us on a suggestive, searching journey, with swells of passion along the way, while the melody of No. 19 leads through engaging harmonic changes. The mysterious beauty of No. 21 seems summed up in the evocative three-note phrase that precedes the da capo section and is heard again in the final coda, while No. 22 opens with a reflective tone that moves into a fiery and passionate middle section. This collection of Nocturnes concludes as the tender lullaby quality of No. 24 brings the set to a quiet, gentle close.
Throughout all of these pieces, the rich sonorities of the guitar, with its wide tonal palette, beautifully evoke the broad range of nocturnal expression. This recording of Peros’ 24 Nocturnes for solo guitar, together with the publication of the complete score by publisher Les Productions d’OZ, helps to lay an important foundation for the guitar as an eminent instrument for the modern nocturne form.
Ron Beckett (from the liner notes)
The outstanding Michael Kolk is the soloist in the world premiere recording of Nocturnes: 24 Nocturnes for Solo Guitar by the Canadian composer Nick Peros (DeoSonic Music DSM54536 nickperos.com). Peros has written numerous other solo works for classical guitar, including five Suites and a Sonata, and is clearly someone who knows and understands the instrument’s potential for tone and colour.
The short pieces here are predominantly quiet, slow and pensive – they are nocturnes, after all – 16 of them with subtitles like relaxed; atmospheric, mysterious; reflective; as a dream; with mystery and longing; peaceful, gentle. Only two are noted as with fire and passion. They appear to be centred on traditional major and minor keys, predominantly the open guitar strings of E, A and D, but it’s never that simple – there is actually a good deal of tonal ambiguity here, and an abundance of rich chromatic expression.
They are well-crafted, attractive and quite beguiling pieces, with the occasional faster numbers in particular much in the style of the standard 19th- and 20th-century guitar etudes. The final two Nocturnes in particular are really lovely.
One thing is certain: they couldn’t possibly have a better interpreter than Michael Kolk, whose playing, as always, is of the highest musical standard – technically faultless, with a clear, clean and resonant sound, and a complete absence of left-hand finger noise. The CD was produced by the composer, and it’s difficult to view these beautiful performances as anything other than definitive.
Terry Robbins – The WholeNote – September 2017
Because the guitar is a more intimate instrument, and unlike the piano devoid of any mechanical moving parts between the musician and itself, it’s much better suited to expressive music like this set of 24 Nocturnes for Solo Guitar by Canadian composer Nick Peros than the piano could ever be. The purity of tone that emanates from a classical guitar’s nylon strings, when captured in the right acoustic environment, goes straight to the listener’s heart and soul. And the beautifully atmospheric harmonic approach that Nick Peros applies to each number (Nocturne Nos. 8, 13 and 23 stand out) achieves just that. Most pieces are haunting and evocative with a handful that are more passionate and technically demanding on the performer (No. 11 for example). And none of them sound repetitive as each one seems to inhabit a different and personal emotional state, a quality made all the more obvious by the varying levels of expressive color and weight guitarist Michael Kolk brings to each one. The instrument he used during the recording sessions is a Martin Blackwell guitar. This is the world première recording of this set of new works for the guitar, that hopefully all serious guitarists will strive to learn and perform, keeping in mind that Michael Kolk has already set the bar very high.
Jean-Yves Duperron – Classical Music Sentinel – September 2017