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Martha Masters (guitar)
Viaggo in Italia

Mauro GIULIANI (1781-1829)
Gran Sonata Eroica, Op 150 [10:04]

Giulio REGONDI (1822-1872)
Etude No 6 in D minor [
6:20]; Etude No 8 in G major [5:18]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in D major, K 277 [
3:26]; Sonata in A major, K 208 [4:32]; Sonata in D major, K 178 [2:28]
Bryan JOHANSON (b. 1951)
Ciaccona [
Angelo GILARDINO (b.1941)
Colloquio con Andrés Segovia [
Simone IANNARELLI (b.1970)
Variazioni - en Mémoire de S. Rachmaninoff [
Martha Masters (guitar)
rec. Loyola Marymount University. (no date given)
GSP 1031 CD [56:36]

Musicians’ websites are a little like personal resumés: they contain nothing negative from those offering performance testimonials! Visiting the website of Martha Masters, the guitarist featured on the review disc, one is presented with eighteen statements of ‘critical acclaim.’ From authoritative sources such as Classical Guitar and Guitar Review, they contain a plethora of superlatives.

Martha Master began her guitar studies at the age of six and rather reverently refers to her first teacher, Jim McCutcheon, as ‘a man with a gift for teaching children’. She then studied with composer/teacher Brian Head. At the Peabody Conservatory Martha studied with Manuel Barrueco, gaining both Bachelor and Master of Music degrees. Studying with Scott Tennant at the University of Southern California she completed the Doctor of Musical Arts degree.

In October 2000 she won first prize in the Guitar Foundation of America (GFA) International Solo Competition. In November of that same year Martha also won the Andrès Segovia International Guitar Competition in Linares, Spain, and was a finalist in the Alexandre Tansman International Competition of Musical Personalities in Lodz, Poland.

Martha’s very busy schedule includes extensive masterclass/festival teaching and annual teaching at the National Guitar Workshop Classical Summit in Connecticut. In addition she heads the guitar programme at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

The review disc is her sixth commercial recording. There are too two discrete CDs and one DVD; she appears with other guitarists on a 2CD Naxos compilation and also on a DVD with past GFA winners.

Thematically centred on Italy, the review programme is balanced and well chosen. There is both old and new music and without slavish adherence to the theme, a composition by non-Italian Bryan Johanson, Ciaccona (7) is included.

Of the composers represented, Simone Iannarelli and Bryan Johanson are less familiar to listeners.

Simone Iannarelli (b.1970), a guitarist-composer, is currently Professor of Guitar at the University of Colima, Mexico. Born in Rome, he completed his initial guitar studies in Italy before moving to Paris; there he studied with Roland Dyens. The programme item by Iannarelli is an uninterrupted series of variations written in the memory of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Bryan Johanson (b.1951) is an American classical guitarist-composer. He studied composition with Charles Jones and William Bolcom. His guitar tutelage includes Christopher Parkening, Michael Lorimer and Alirio Diaz. Johanson uses the structure of the Baroque Ciaccona - a set of uninterrupted variations - for quite a modern construction to create ‘something new out of something old’.

Immediately conspicuous is the stunning overall sound quality of the review disc. While sonically it is well recorded, the sound of the guitar is exceptional. A number of variables may contribute to this: the venue, recording techniques, quality of the instrument and player capability.

To negate the possibility of aural illusion I revisited two favoured recordings that feature fine instruments and sonic excellence: Naxos 8.557598 on which Marco Tamayo uses a radially braced instrument by Simon Marty and EMI Classics 0946 3 70714 2 7 featuring a Greg Smallman, lattice-braced guitar played by Xue Fei Yang. 

With the kind assistance of Martha Masters I am able to identify the instrument she uses on the review disc as a 2001 spruce and Brazilian rosewood guitar by Mariano Tezanos and Gregorio Perez. Both luthiers were part of the Jose Ramirez III workshop team but in 1991 decided to leave and build instruments under the Tenazos-Perez label; that association continued until recently. This is a powerful instrument, well-balanced, with great clarity, but also mellowness. The first string has an attribute that all guitarist covet - a singing quality throughout its entire register that can endow a melodic line with added dimensions of grace and beauty. This is particularly evident in the Regondi Study No. 6 (2). Based on the review CD this is the best-recorded guitar I have heard. It is gratifying to see the traditional approach to luthiery produce such magnificent results. 

There is some excellent playing on this disc. Martha Masters is able to emulate the very best of those luminaries to whom she has been exposed plus encapsulate the whole in a package of her own unique style. When asked about her favourite players as examples she nominated Scott Tennant, Manuel Barrueco, David Russell and Paul Galbraith, giving specific reasons for each nomination. Listening to the review disc I hear echoes of Tennant’s power, the elegance of Barrueco, David Russell’s tone and the phrasing of Galbraith plus a lot of Masters. Her playing in the Regondi is poetic and the Scarlatti, particularly K 178 [6], is especially memorable. 

While the chosen instrument may contribute much to the clarity of music line, Martha Masters’ attention to string damping - very obvious in the rendition of Bach’s BWV 998 to be found refreshingly not truncated on her website - gives the music focus, clarity and crispness. If you visit her website try Schubert’s Ständchen for another musical treat. 

Of the great Jose Luis Gonzalez (1932-1998), guitarist and ex-student Alexander-Sergei Ramirez said: ‘he had exactly what I think is missing in most classical guitarists today.’ What the specifics of Ramirez’s observations were is not referenced and while no comparison between the review guitarist and Jose Luis is inferred, on the Masters disc one encounters fine attributes and characteristics that regrettably are also missing in much of today’s recorded guitar music. Given the earlier reference to eighteen general expressions of ‘critical acclaim’ I am obviously not the first to have made that observation.

This is the sort of recording that makes the listener want more. Fortuitously that option is available.

Zane Turner

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