Paul Bielatowicz is best known for his virtuoso guitar work with some of the biggest names in progressive rock. He’s played, recorded and toured with the likes of Carl Palmer (ELP), Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Les Paul… to name just a few.
“For as long as I can remember, ever since I was a small child, I’ve had a dream – to play the guitar with the skill and musicality of a classical virtuoso, while maintaining the purity of the instrument’s natural tone. I’ve done everything I can to make Preludes & Etudes the realization of that dream.”
The album is a collection of classical showpieces played almost exactly as the composers intended, but with one small difference – an electric guitar takes the place of violin, piano or whatever the original solo instrument might have been. The content ranges from breathtakingly virtuosic with some of classical music’s most challenging repertoire, to hauntingly beautiful with lyrical pieces such as Debussy’s Clair De Lune – all played as you’ve never heard them before.
Much of the album’s music was considered by many to be impossible on the guitar – pieces such as Chopin’s notorious Op.10 Etudes, which are a challenge for even the most consummate concert pianist, never mind a guitarist; Paganini’s infamous 5th Caprice, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee, J.S. Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor, the third movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata… these are just few of the 19 pieces that make this perhaps one of the most virtuosic guitar albums you’ll ever come across.
Preludes & Etudes is the result of three years’ blood, sweat and the occasional tear… “I spent a month or so working on each piece – painstakingly arranging it and then practicing it until my fingers were raw. To be honest, there were quite a few moments where I thought a number of pieces were just going to be impossible on guitar.” While studying at music college, Paul set himself a strict 10-hour per day practice routine, a schedule he would return to during the making of this album. “There were periods in most months when I’d lock myself away for entire weeks at a time – that was the only way I was ever going to manage to get this material under my fingers, to a standard where it as ready to perform and record.”
“I wanted to present the electric guitar as a serious classical instrument, in my opinion that’s never really been done before. I approached the recording process in the same way a classical musician would – trying to get the purest tone from my instrument and capturing each performance so that the listener feels like they’re right there in the room with me. What you hear is just a guitar, a cable and an old valve amp. No microchips, distortion pedals or effects were allowed anywhere near the album and I used as little gain on the amp as possible to maintain the purity of the guitar’s natural tone, giving the listener as honest a performance as possible. Preludes & Etudes is all about the playing and the natural tone of the instrument. It’s is a celebration of the electric guitar in its purest form, and an attempt to raise its perception to that of a classical instrument.”
Although the majority of the album is a solo effort – Paul being credited with all the accompanying orchestral arrangements and piano parts – he did call upon a couple of very talented friends to make contributions. Fellow Carl Palmer Band-mate Simon Fitzpatrick makes an appearance on four tracks, his virtuoso solo bass accompaniments complimenting Bielatowicz’s guitar parts so perfectly that there are points where it’s difficult to say which instrument is taking the lead. The album was mixed and mastered by Rich Mouser – a household name in progressive rock circles. His decades of studio experience and love of traditional analogue equipment have been put to great use in producing crystal clear mixes that allow the music to breath, putting the listener right at the center of the performance.