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Guitar Recital
Manuel Maria PONCE (1882-1948)
Sonata III (1927) [15:45]: Allegro Moderato; Chanson; Allegro non troppo
Joaquín CLERCH (b.1965)
Preludios de Primavera:Homenaje a Francisco Tárrega (2005): Primavera [3:37]; Las olas de Moncofa [0:32]; Homenaje a Tchaikovsky [1:33]; El Adios [2:44]; Y si pienso en la Habana [1:10]; Souvenir de Granada [2:00];  Cuando tu no estás [2:07]
Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)
Quatre pièces brèves pour la guitar (1933): Prelude [2:42]; Air [1:42]; Plainte [2:47]; Comme une Gigue [2:17]
Ernst KRENEK (1900-1991)
Suite, Op.164 (1957): Allegro moderato [0:56]; Andante sostenuto [1:35]; Allegretto [0:43]; Larghetto [1:40]; Allegro [1:11]
Francisco TARREGA (1852-1909)
Fantasy on themes from La Traviata [7:11]; Marieta: Mazurka[2:34]; Maria:Gavota [1:27]
Aram Il’yich KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Prelude for Guitar [1:47]
Michalis Kontaxakis (guitar)
rec. 23-26 March 2006, St. John Chrysostom  Church, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada.
NAXOS  8.570191 [58:01]
 


For young relatively unknown musicians, victory in an international music competition may be a harbinger of future fame.
 
In the world of the classical guitar the International Francisco Tárrega Guitar Competition is highly regarded and irrespective of what the future may hold, it justifiably endows first-prize winners with connotations of excellence.
 
Included among past first-prize winners are such famous guitarists as David Russell who won in 1977. More recent there has been Anabel Montesinos - 2002, and featured artist of this review disc Michalis Kontaxakis, winner in 2005.
 
Kontaxakis is one of Greece’s leading young guitarists and the first to win the Tárrega Competition. He studied with Vassilis Mastorakis and graduated from Costas Cotsiolis’s class. He also studied at the Robert Schumann Musikhochschule in Dusseldorf with Joaquín Clerch, and preceding his achievement in the Tarrega Competition already had a number of wins in other international competitions.
 
While the music by Ponce, Tarrega and Martin is familiar, less familiar is the Prelude for Guitar by Khachaturian and the Suite Op. 164 (1957) by Ernst Krenek. One could be excused for not recognising the Homenaje a Francisco Tárrega by Joaquin Clerch (b.1965), because this is its premiere recording.
 
Joaquin Clerch is both a capable guitarist and composer. Since 1999 he has held a professorship of guitar at the Robert Schumann University in Dusseldorf. Born in Cuba he began his studies in Havana and then continued at the Salzburg Mozarteum under the tutelage of Eliot Fisk. His homage to Tárrega is a set of seven short pieces each dedicated to a friend or member of the composer’s family.
 
Ernst Krenek was born in Vienna in 1900.  He became a student of Franz Schreker at the Vienna Music Academy.  At the Berlin Musikhochschule, where be followed Schreker in 1920, his musical style developed in other directions with compositions earning him the reputation as an ‘enfant terrible’. He won international success with his jazz opera, Johnny spielt auf. His suite for guitar comprising five short movements was written in 1957 and dedicated to guitarist, teacher and composer Theodore Norman.
 
A reviewer once noted that the great Venezuelan guitarist Alirio Diaz played J.S.. Bach in the same manner as he played the Venezuelan waltzes of Antonio Lauro. Having listened to his recording,  Alirio Diaz Plays Bach (EMI HQS 1145) I have empathy for this point of view.  Rather than detracting from the music it is an interesting and enjoyable departure from the academic norm.  The same could be said of Maria Kliegel’s unique use of pizzicato in the Sarabande movement of Bach’s Fifth Suite for Unaccompanied Cello (Naxos 8.557280-81) apoplexy for the academics, but music to the ears.
 
I cannot be so sanguine about the rather sedate style that permeates much of the music on the review disc. Technically the playing is impeccable, and tonal qualities produced on the guitar evocative of what one imagines Tárrega may have sounded like. This is all very relevant in the music of Tárrega, but applied to some of the other composers, borders on the soporific.  In the Ponce there are deviations from this, and manifestations of the spirit and attack that falls within the capabilities of Michalis Kontaxakis.
 
Some guitarists are capable of being chameleon-like by contrasting the way they interpret and execute over a rage of different music, and even within a single composition.
 
Although written originally for piano, Granada from the Suite española by I. Albéniz is a frequently recorded treasure from the guitar repertory. The several versions in my collection all receive similar appropriate interpretations with some more sedate than others, but none being singularly memorable. Except one: in his recording, Five Centuries of Spanish Guitar Classics (Denon CD 75715) Alexander Sergei Ramirez delivers a rendition which is memorable above all others. Albéniz is purported to have preferred the guitar version by Tarrega over his original, and my preference is strongly in favour of the Ramirez version over that for piano by Alicia de Larrocha (Decca 417 887-2).
 
Generally Ramirez’s version, while beautifully executed, is fairly standard until it reaches the point marked energico in the second E major section. Here he becomes a chameleon utilizing atypical dynamics and a spirited attack that in retrospect seems ‘just right’. It is this delicious use of contrast that gives the music a whole new appeal. Embracing this type of approach at relevant times would give the review disc a broader and more instant appeal.
 
There is no one guitar that could be considered ideal for all periods of music, and all composers. Some guitarists employ different instruments by different makers to try to capture the individual spirit of the period or the composer and on recordings more than one instrument may be used. In his recording, Guitar Music From Brazil (Naxos 8.557295) Graham Anthony Divine used instruments by Hernandez Y Aguado and Andres D. Marvi.
 
On the review disc Kontaxakis patriotically employs an instrument by the Greek luthier Alkis that unfortunately only contributes to the overall sedateness of the recording. An instrument with a wider tonal palette such as that played by Marco Tamayo on his recent recording of Paganini (Naxos 8.557598) would be preferable.
 
Despite excellent credentials, what Kontaxakis delivers on this occasion is insufficient to make him stand out in a crowded field. The programme is interesting and refreshing, however the very capable playing is overall too sedate.
 
Zane Turner
 

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