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Odyssey
Joaquin TURINA (1882-1949)
Sevillana op. 29 [6:48]
Carlo DOMENICONI (b. 1947)
Koyunbaba op. 19 [13:35]
Nikita KOSHKIN (b. 1956)
Merlin’s Dream [6:10]
Yuquijiro YOCOH
Sakura [7:01]
Phillip HOUGHTON (b. 1954)
Kinkachoo, I Love You [2:42]
William BLAND (b. 1947)
Rag Nouveau [4:42]
Ernesto CORDERO (b. 1946)
Tres Cantigas Negras [8:55]
Antonio LAURO (1917-1986)
Vals Venezolano No. 3 [2:03]
Alejandro Nunez ALLAUCA (b 1943)
Koribeni No. 2 [6:51]
Dilermando REIS (1919-1967)
Si Ela Perguntar [4:07]
Astor PIAZZOLA (1921-1992)
Verano Portento [5:12]
Francis BEBEY (1929-2001)
The Magic Box [2:23]
Alexander-Sergei Ramirez (guitar)
rec. March 2003, Neustadt-Mandelsloh, Lower Saxony (Germany), St. Osdag-Kirche
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 474 2082 [71:09]
Experience Classicsonline


Although not always evident in what they record, a key objective of guitarists should be to entertain their listeners. Choice of programme is important and as the well-known adage suggests, ‘variety is the spice of life.’
 
The review disc scores well in a number of areas not least of which is the programme. Guitarist Alexander-Sergei Ramirez selected twelve quite disparate original compositions for guitar by composers of twelve different countries (see below). The guitar goes on a voyage of discovery, an odyssey. Once deemed to be an instrument with a paucity of repertory, relying heavily on transcriptions and arrangements, the review disc is testimony that this is no longer the case.
 
More than any other single recording I recall hearing, Odyssey demonstrates the quite breathtaking variety of sounds and timbre of which the guitar is capable in the hands of a master. We hear the rasqueado of flamenco; drum-like and percussive sounds made by striking the guitar body with the thumb and fingers; étouffées wherein the strings are damped with the heel of the right hand and then plucked with fingers or thumb; rapidly repeated notes of the tremolo; emulations of the koto that sound deceptively authentic and sounds that mimic those of forest birds. Some may regard this as instrumental gimmickry but in the context of these compositions, the sounds are germane and highly effective.
 
Much indigenous music is identifiable by its rhythms, harmonies and special effects.
One can associate the majority of the programme items here with a specific country, a notable exception being (12) Kinkachoo, I Love You by Australian, Phillip Houghton. The liner-notes explain that Kinkachoo refers to a bird held sacred by Australian Aborigines.
 
All this is complemented by the guitarist’s command of tonal nuances and dynamics. Tone varies from crisp, bright ponticello made by playing in close proximity to the bridge, to soft, sonorous sound achievable when the strings are caressed well to the left of the sound-hole. Wide contrast in dynamics can be challenging on the guitar but Ramirez achieves this admirably, particularly in such pieces as (9). A chameleon-like approach to dynamics - a hallmark in Ramirez’s recorded music - never leaves one bored but constantly in a state of anticipation; nothing soporific about this playing!
 
It is impossible to isolate any one highlight of this recording. The Spanish spirit with which Turina’s Sevillana is played is memorable. The strong rhythmic emphasis in Vals No 3 (13) by Lauro, especially in the minor section, heightens awareness of the 3,2/2,3 patterns; the major section is executed with a lyricism that is quite beguiling. The playing here reminds one more of a pianist rather than a typical guitarist. Many guitarists play this Vals at breakneck speed demonstrating technical prowess, but sacrificing musicality.
 
Ramirez is well equipped as a musician and instrumentalist to embrace the challenges of this programme. He was born in Lima, Peru in 1962 and commenced his musical career as a cellist later changing to guitar. He subsequently studied guitar with Professor Maritta Kersting, Pepe Romero and the inimitable José Luis González. His musical education includes participation in master-classes given by violinist Dénes Zsigmondy, tenor Luigi Alva and piano pedagogue Karl-Heinz Kämmerling.
 
Since winning the Alhambra International Guitar Competition in Spain, he has concertised internationally in solo recital, chamber music, and as a duo with pianist Sheila Arnold to whom he is married. Since 1997, Ramirez has taught guitar at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Dusseldorf.
 
The guitar used on this occasion is by Antonio Marín-Montero of Granada, made in 2000. It is unfortunate that the beautiful intrinsic sounds of this instrument and the extent to which Ramirez exploits its capabilities, are sometimes compromised by recording techniques. Sonically this disc is acceptable but not up to the same standard set by several other companies that specialise in guitar music.
 
To stand out in a crowded field is not easy. With a carefully crafted programme that is entertaining from the first to the last track, augmented by technical mastery and outstanding musicianship, Alexander-Sergei Ramirez achieves this well.

Zane Turner

 
Composer notes
Joaquin Turina
One of the best-known Spanish composers of his time, Turina, was also a pianist and a conductor. He studied with Vincent d’Indy in Paris where he became friendly with Ravel and Debussy

Carlo Domeniconi
A guitarist and composer, he studied in Italy and Germany before spending a number of years teaching and composing in Turkey. Koyunbaba (shepherds), describes the great sense of calm and almost meditative atmosphere of the countryside of southwest Turkey.

Nikita Koshkin

A Russian guitarist and composer, Koshkin studied guitar with Alexander Frauchi and composition with Victor Egorov. In Merlin’s Dream, tremolo and a glass tube slid over the strings create the unreal atmosphere.

Yuquijiro Yocoh

Yocoh initially studied dentistry but gave this up to devote himself exclusively to the guitar and composition. Sakura (Cherry Blossom) is his best-known work

Phillip Houghton

Painter, guitarist and composer, Houghton studied guitar with Sebastian Jorgensen. As a composer he is self-taught.

William Bland

American composer and pianist, William Bland studied composition with Ernst Krenek, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett and Earle Brown. He has written extensively for solo guitar and in combination with chamber formations.

Ernesto Cordero

Guitarist, and composer, Cordero was bought up from infancy in Puerto Rico. He studied guitar with Regino Sainz de la Maza, Alirio Diaz and composition with Roberto Caggiaro and Julián Orbón.

Antonio Lauro

Inspired by legendary guitarist Agustin Barrios, Lauro gave up the piano and devoted himself entirely to the guitar. As a composer he is best known for Venezuelan waltzes of which No.3 is one of his very best and well-known works.

Alejandro Nunez Allauca

A native of Peru, Allauca studied at the Conservatorio Nacional de Lima and at the Instituto Torcuato di Tella in Buenos Aires. Koribeni no. 2 describes the young composer’s journey to the Indian tribe of the Koribeni in the Amazon regions of Peru

Dilermando Reis

Reis lived most of his life in Rio, and was in great demand as a guitarist. His works, totalling over one hundred, include many waltzes, and choros.

Astor Piazzolla

Composer and bandoneon virtuoso, Piazzolla studied with Alberto Ginastera, Nadia Boulanger among others. He is regarded as ‘the king of tango’ which he established as a legitimate form of music in concert halls throughout the world.

Francis Bebey

Bebey studied in Douala, Paris and in the USA. He was self-taught as a guitarist and was known as the ‘Segovia of Cameroon’. He also wrote several works for that instrument. His best-known work is ‘The Magic Box” (referring to the gramophone)


 


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