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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Grisha - Alma Flamenca
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)
Torre Bermeja [4:37]; Cádiz [4:14]; Granada [5:42]; Asturias [6:08].
SABICAS (1912-1990)
Malagueña [3:56]; Danza Mora [6:23]; Soleá [5:49]; Bulerias [2:40].
Paco de LUCIA (b. 1947)
Guajira [3:27]; Fandangos [3:38]; Taranta [6:26]; Bulerias [5:29].
Grigory Goryachev (guitar)
rec. San Franciso, CA. (no date given)
VGo RECORDINGS VG 1012 [58:29]




The review disc presents two genres with common roots. There are numerous examples of fine players who play flamenco and classical guitar, however among the truly great players, historically none has managed to reach an apotheosis of both.

While the classical and flamenco guitar appear the same, there are fundamental and important differences in structure and material that affect the instrument’s playability and sound. The technique used to play flamenco is different and one with which the average classical player would struggle. Flamenco music is highly improvisational and few players read music. Like fado it is a music form that is in evolution.

Segovia was a great admirer of flamenco and with reference to the improvisation of a contemporary Paco Lucena said ‘it is proof of the depths and simplicity of his noble style’. He even went to the length of transcribing examples of Lucena’s improvisations. However part of his stated mission was to rescue the guitar from flamenco.

Grigory Goryachev (Grisha) is a native of St. Petersburg. In none of the information accessible are we made privy to his date of birth; from the photographs supplied with the accompanying notes, somewhere around 1976-80 would be a reasonable estimate. He began playing the guitar at the age of seven under the tutelage of his father Dimitry, an acknowledged master and teacher of the instrument. Since going to the USA Grisha has performed in master-classes taught by such luminaries as Christopher Parkening, Manuel Barrueco and Sharon Isbin. No mention is made of his apprenticeship in flamenco guitar and it is hard to conceive that in this genre he is an autodidact. At present Grisha continues to balance international concert obligations with study at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston where he is earning his Doctoral degree under Eliot Fisk.

Sabicas and Paco de Lucia, the two players whose music is represented in the flamenco programme, are magnificent exponents of their art. In their respective periods of performance they were never equalled. Sabicas was exclusively a flamenco player, however Paco de Lucia ventured into classical repertory: he has made recordings of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and of music by de Falla. While different and most enjoyable, they are not the best examples of classical guitar playing and in reality were probably never intended to be.

In contemplating companionship for the flamenco repertory from among classical composers, Albéniz makes for a logical and ideal choice. His compositions were strongly influenced by folk music that he heard played on guitar. The four works from his opera selected for inclusion in this programme, were all originally arranged for guitar by Francisco Tarrega. They are idiomatic of that instrument and, in comparison with the piano for which they were written, many believe sound superior played on the guitar

Here the attack with which these works are approached is ferocious. Whatever romantic elements Albéniz may have infused into his originals are expunged via displays of speed, technical pyrotechnics and liberties with timing. This is all technically impressive but often musically shallow and at odds with the original intent of the music.

In 1886, speaking of his serenata Granada, Albeniz wrote to a friend Enrique Moragas: I live and write a Serenata…. sad to the point of despair, among the aroma of the flowers, the shade of the cypresses and of the snow of the Sierra. I will not compose the intoxication of a juerga. I seek now the tradition… the guzla, the lazy dragging of the fingers over the strings. And above all, a heartbreaking lament out of tune…I want the Arabic Granada, that which is art, which is all that seems to me beauty and emotion. 

These renditions sound like arrangements for the flamenco guitar and were they not fairly consistent with the essential elements of the original guitar transcriptions that would be a reasonable conclusion.

When we arrive at the music of Sabicas and Paco de Lucia everything changes and Grisha is seen in his true element. That he has a strong command of the essential elements of flamenco is without question and there are many born in Spain who could not play to the same standard. The attack is tenacious, rhythms compliant and the picado truly outstanding. Execution of long sequences of single notes played in rapid succession, especially ascending the fingerboard, is technically very challenging; few do it as well as Grisha and even fewer do it better. Over-employed it sounds showy and becomes boring; used judiciously it adds a dimension of excitement and can be quite mesmerising. But this is only part of playing flamenco. The music by Sabicas and de Lucia is essentially that taken note-for-note from their recordings; per se this is a significant achievement. However before making a definitive decision about Grisha and whether or not he deserves accolades such as ‘one of the world’s greatest flamenco guitarists’ we need to hear his own falsetas and improvisational skills.

Earlier reference was made to variations in material and construction, which give the classical and flamenco guitars different sounds. Although other woods are used, the traditionally preferred timber for the back and sides of a classical guitar is rosewood of various varieties; this imparts a deeper tone to the final sound. Cypress is traditionally preferred for flamenco guitars and imbues the sound with crisper and sharper characteristics.

The guitar used in the review disc is by American luthier Stephan Connor. If the instrument appearing in the photographs with the accompanying notes is the same as the one used on the recording, it is of the classical variety with rosewood back and sides. In the context of music by Albéniz it is not an instrument that endears itself to this writer; there are many recorded examples of significantly superior guitars. Grisha obviously has preference for this type of instrument in his execution of flamenco music. Although atypical, he shares that preference with the great flamenco guitarist Mario Escudero who also used a classical guitar to play flamenco.

All in all this is an enjoyable disc and one of the best recorded examples of outstanding technical facility. It is indicative of what history has already taught us: while some may play both flamenco and classical guitar well, no one guitarist has ever become famous as an outstanding exponent of both. If fame and fortune are to be Grigory Goryachev’s companions, based on this recording, it will be as a flamenco not as a classical guitarist.

Zane Turner

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