Each year the Guitar Federation of America (GFA) sponsors an international competition. Past winners constitute a hall of fame of who’s who among the younger generation of classical guitarists. In some circles the prestige associated with this competition initiates a good deal of optimism and anticipation directed at First Prize winners, even before they are heard by world audiences.
The First Prize winner for 2011 was Vladimir Gorbach, and as part of the prize he was awarded a recording contract for a CD with Naxos. Born in 1981, Gorbach began his guitar studies at an early age in the class of Professor Yuri Kuzin at the State Music School in Novosibirsk, city of the former’s birth. He continued with these studies at the Glinka Conservatorium under Arkady Burkhanov to completion of a collegiate degree. This followed studies at the Music Academy in Cologne with Roberto Aussel. Gorbach has subsequently played as a soloist and chamber musician, travelling and concertizing extensively in a global context.
The review disc programme comprises items from the Baroque to twentieth century. Of the compositions played, six are original works for guitar, the remaining arrangements taken from other instruments. See composer notes at the end of this review.
The technical proficiency and general musicianship demonstrated by Gorbach are exemplary. His style is relaxed and sure-footed. The outcome is predictable and he is not a disciple of risk-taking which is characteristic of most GFA winners and competition winners in general. If you are looking for lots of fireworks and ‘playing on the edge’ this disc may not be for you. There are more exciting players around but few playing in a more relaxed and disciplined fashion.
One interesting aspect of the Naxos Laureate series is that, with minor exceptions, all were made at the same venue using the same production executives, and one may assume the same, or very similar, technical equipment. This leaves the player and his instrument as the only variables, and an opportunity to compare the relative ’sound’ from recording to recording.
Among classical guitarists ‘sound’ is sacrosanct. One may be a fine musician and highly technically proficient, but if your tone is poor and no one can hear you beyond the first row, then most is lost. This ‘sound’ is much harder to evaluate on a recording because venue, recording techniques and manipulation can achieve results not reproducible in a live concert. Guitarists pursue amplification, innovative instrument design and construction techniques to improve volume but none can replicate the overall sound of Andrés Segovia.
Further demonstrating this preoccupation are the comments of Gabriel Garcia Santos, famous pupil of the great Jose Luis Gonzalez: ‘Gonzalez could be defined in one word: The Sound, like you would say The Voice for Sinatra. Not an adornment, but rather a component of it; the creative bedrock. His was magnificent. Malleable with infinite shadings, now powerful and projected, now soft (no one could do a pianissimo like him)’.
It will be immediately evident to anyone auditioning this recording on high quality reproducing equipment that the sound made by the player is not what one has come to expect from discs in this series. While this observation is made in absolute terms, it is much more conspicuous when comparing it with several others from the Naxos Laureate releases. Recognizing the significant attributes of this player, one is led to the assumption that the instrument used is contributing inordinately to the problem. The liner-notes reference the instrument as made by R. Brune, USA. Information on the player’s website indicates that he currently plays an instrument by Daniele Chiesa, so a change, subsequent to this recording, may have been made.
This is a quality recording with a number of admirable traits. However these virtues are occasionally clouded by characteristics common to most competition winners. The sonic quality of the disc is below the standard normally experienced on this label.
Born in Argentina, Piazzolla was a virtuoso bandoneon player and composer who specialized in the tango infused with other styles of music, particularly jazz and classical. He studied the music of Bartók and Stravinsky and at one stage of his career focused exclusively on classical music. His composition Buenos Aires Symphony
won him a prize to study in Paris under the famed Nadia Boulanger. Despite his professed dedication to classical music, on hearing him play one of his Tango compositions, Boulanger encouraged Piazzolla to pursue this genre exclusively. Piazzolla suffered a cerebral haemorrhage in 1990, and died in Argentina two years later without regaining consciousness,
Although Asencio wrote music for several successful ballets, for orchestra and also songs, it is for guitar music that he is probably best known. Championed by players such as Andrés Segovia and Narciso Yepes, his guitar music has become an integral part of the modern repertory. Asencio married composer and painter Martilde Salvador, and they subsequently became one of the most influential artistic couples in the Valencia music scene. He joined the music staff of the Valencia Conservatory in 1953 where he taught for many years. Asencio died in 1979 after a long illness.
Giuliani was born in Bisceglie, Italy, but in his early years moved to Barletta. His first interest was the cello which he never abandoned, but it was the guitar to which he subsequently devoted himself. Giuliani became a famed virtuoso of the instrument and his musical legacy includes compositions for solo guitar and the instrument in combination with orchestra, pianoforte, flute, violin and voice. His didactic works for the guitar are valued by modern-day concert artists and students alike.
Scarlatti was an Italian composer and virtuoso who spent most of his life in the service of the Portuguese and Spanish royal families. He is probably best known for his keyboard sonatas of which he wrote more than five hundred. In some of these the influence of Iberian folk music, and especially the Phrygian mode, is clearly present. This may explain, in part, their adaptability to the classical guitar and popularity as part of the standard repertory.