Twenty-eight--year-old Rafael Aguirre has won so many contests
at this point that he has actually already recorded a CD for
the Naxos Laureate series. I missed that recital, but this one
provides ample evidence of Aguirre’s talent. It’s
a varied and interesting program that reflects the performer’s
wide repertoire and good taste. It shows that he really is a
complete performer. Virtuosity, sensuality, tenderness, and
razzle-dazzle - it’s all there to enjoy.
There are a lot of good transcriptions here, beginning with
an intermezzo from a zarzuela by Gerónimo Giménez.
This opener immediately brushes aside any doubts about Aguirre’s
technical ability and imaginative flair; it’s a total
charmer. Carles Trepat, a Catalan guitarist born in 1960, supplies
arrangements of two pieces by Claude Debussy, which Aguirre
renders with a mystery and sunlit impressionism suited to the
originals. ‘Soirée dans Grenade’ is notable
for the soloist’s marvellous soft touch. Aguirre himself
offers a virtuoso arrangement of a movement, ‘Triana’,
from Albéniz’s Iberia. My favorite Albéniz
on guitar is still the Trio
Besides Debussy’s postcards from Spain (‘La Puerta
del vino’ was based on a postcard sent to him from Spain,
by Falla), we also have the Spanish Impressions of Brazilian
composer Sergio Assad (b. 1952). This is a three-movement suite
written for Rafael Aguirre. It’s an excellent contribution
to the guitar repertoire - maybe the CD’s high point.
For those unfamiliar with Assad, his style is distinctly ‘southern’
and spiced with unusual turns of phrase. Typically Spanish idioms
rise up in dialogue with the composer’s own style, folksy
and multicolored with the occasional hint of Latin America.
Assad, a fantastic guitarist, does not stint on the technical
challenges and his dedicatee more than rises to the occasion.
Other highlights include a short flamenco piece by Paco de Lucía,
again allowing Aguirre to combine virtuosity of technique and
expression; a Tárrega chestnut (‘Gran Jota,’
a delightfully wild romp and a favorite of Pepe Romero and Narciso
Yepes); and an eight-minute Toccata by Joaquín
Rodrigo, which is quite a rarity. According to an interview
Aguirre gave along with Rodrigo’s daughter, the Toccata
is so ferociously difficult that no guitarist would touch it.
This can be confirmed by a search of guitarists’ Internet
discussion boards, where the piece is described as “unplayable”!
The Naxos liner notes by Graham Wade say that the manuscript
was only located in 2005, adding to the mystery of the piece,
but that since then “it has been recorded on various occasions”.
That may be true, but my searches of Presto and ArkivMusic found
only one previous recording of the work - and that, on Brilliant
Classics, used two guitarists! As Aguirre manages to play the
piece here, it does indeed sound like a taxing endurance test,
though not without rewards for the listener. I enjoyed the episode
after 3:20 especially.
The recorded sound, by Naxos guitar production team of Norbert
Kraft and Bonnie Silver, is as we have come to expect from one
of the best guitar recording teams in the world. The excellent
Alhambra guitar is ideally situated, sounding as naturally as
if Rafael Aguirre was in your living room, provided your room
has ideal acoustics. I suppose I have to move on to Aguirre’s
previous recital, featuring Ibert, Poulenc, Villa-Lobos, and
Rautavaara. I also have to look forward to his next album. This
one is fantastic.