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.
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.
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,
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.
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
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
the composers represented, Simone Iannarelli and Bryan Johanson
are less familiar to listeners.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
, is especially memorable.
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.
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.
is the sort of recording that makes the listener want more.
Fortuitously that option is available.