Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco enjoyed encouraging young musicians. So it’s always a delight to meet young artists who discover Mario’s music and become passionate about performing it. Guitarist Leonard Becker (pictured above at center), who has been studying with Professor Franz Halasz in Munich since 2017, exemplifies this spirit. Alongside Louis Vandory (violin), Valerie Steenken (violin), Elisabeth Buchner (viola) and Márton Braun (cello), he founded the Tedesco-Quintett, which won First Prize at the International Chamber Music Competition ‘Gerhard Vogt’ in 2019. For their first CD, released by Naxos in 2021, Leonard and his collaborators focused on Mario’s chamber music with guitar. In this endeavor they were joined by Chloé Dufossez (flute), Eloi Huscenot (English horn), and Clara Isabella Siegle (piano). Naturally we were curious to learn more about Leonard’s experience recording this music. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his project and what this music means to him.
Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco interviewed Leonard Becker in December 2021.
How did you come to record Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s chamber music?
At the Semifinals of the renowned Guitar-ARD-Competition in Munich, I heard Castelnuovo-Tedesco‘s Quintet for string quartet and guitar for the first time, and I immediately fell in love with it. So I asked some friends from the University to play this piece with me and everybody enjoyed it a lot. Then I also wanted to get to know the other chamber music repertoire by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and I recognized that it would perfectly fit as a CD program. After some consultation with my teachers I started to organize the whole project.
How did you choose the specific works you included on the CD?
All four pieces included on the CD are prime examples for how beautiful it can be to combine the guitar with other instruments. There are just few other pieces by other composers where the combinations work as well. Especially the Fantasia for piano and guitar is special for me, I hardly know any other piece where the guitar and the piano are that well balanced. And how often does it happen that one hears a flute, an english horn and a guitar playing together?
What impression do you wish to give the listener?
I would like the listener to be encouraged. There are many almost funny moments in the music, contrastive to some deeply emotional moments. So in the end all can be fine!
As a guitarist, I imagine that you were already familiar with Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music before starting this project. Had the other musicians with whom you collaborated ever performed his music before, or was it a new experience for them? What was that like?
No, they did not perform his music before. I know that the violinists already knew Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and the flutist told me that she once watched a film with his music. Except for the pianist, all of us were confronted with new technical challenges— not very common chords on the string instruments, very fast repetitions of triads or large jumps on the flute. It was challenging, but very interesting and encouraging!
While you were studying and recording this music, what emotions did you feel? Was there something that particularly touched you or surprised you?
Some of the pieces are pure happiness, and some are rather emotional and very romantic. I enjoyed it a lot to carve out these differences. And of course, the whole project was super exciting! It was my first CD and to listen to the first results was such a great moment.
Do you have a favorite among the works you recorded?
My absolute favorites are the second and third movement of the Quintet! The second is so beautiful, and I love how the emotional tension rises in the piece. This composition was definitely a magic moment in Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s life as a composer. And the third movement is so vivid and funny, you immediately feel like dancing at the Andalusian beach!
Leonard, thank you so much for your enthusiasm about this music! Congratulations to you and your colleagues for the wonderful music you have created together.
More about Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Guitar Chamber Works by the Tedesco-Quintett is available here
Photo of the Tedesco-Quintett by Karina Zapryanova.