With the technology available today, it’s quite possible for anyone
to make a CD virtually in the comfort of their living room. This extends
right from recording and mixing the tracks to printing the label, booklet,
and associated artwork. The result can’t possibly compete with a
professionally-produced commercial CD but it can certainly satisfy a basic
At the other end of the spectrum, those artists fortunate enough to be
on the books of a respected record company, whether one of the top players
in the league, or a smaller, perhaps specialist outfit, are equally relatively
There is also a large body of performers who fall between these two parameters,
and for them the objective is ideally to achieve the best of both worlds,
carefully balancing professional standards with the necessary eye on financial
Even among today’s top music-making fraternity, few artists can
survive simply on their association with, say, a particular string quartet,
or giving concerts at music clubs dotted up and down the country. If they’re
based in London, Manchester or Birmingham, for example, they have the
advantage of possibly being on the permanent playing staff of a leading
ensemble, and/or teaching at one of the music colleges or conservatoires
Classical guitarist, Alison Smith, studied at London’s Trinity College
of Music - now known as Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
- at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. There her teachers were
Gilbert Biberian and Nicola Hall. After graduating, she taught at the
Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow - now known as the
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland - as well as later lecturing on the undergraduate
course there. After returning to Devon, she is now Classical Guitar Tutor
for the BA Hons music course at Plymouth University, and combines a busy
teaching and performing career around the UK and in Europe. She released
her debut CD, ‘Recuerdos’, in 2008.
Her second CD, entitled ‘Incandescent’, was launched in February
2014. She straightaway presents a professional and visually-attractive
product. Indeed, concert-goers today almost expect to be regularly regaled
by a selection of an artist’s or ensemble’s recordings conveniently
on display in the interval. Consequently, the initial presentation is
therefore significant in ‘selling’ a CD on the night, as is
the actual content. In these respects, it is both attractively packaged.
Smith has gone for a balanced mix of the known and the less familiar.
Between 2002 and 2011 I have reviewed nine or so of her recitals for the
local media, and where, on two occasions respectively, she has premiered
one of my own compositions for the instrument. A number of these reviews,
or highlights thereof, in fact appear on Smith’s website (www.alisonsmithguitar.com
While this has given an extra perspective – the opportunity to compare
both live and recorded versions of a number of the tracks heard here –
it has also raised an anomaly.
With works like Asturias
, Giuliani’s Harmonious Blacksmith
, Tárrega’s Fantasia on Themes from La
or Mertz’s Fantaisie Hongroise
definitely more effective in the live situation. Here, the performer can
achieve an acceptable artistic balance between playing with complete abandon,
and aiming to maintain a clinical accuracy. It is a one-off situation,
and where the visual aspect also has a part to play, unlike a studio recording
that can be listened to, over and over again.
Not surprisingly, the likes of John Williams (Decca 4521732) or Craig
Ogden (Classic FM CFMD14) have the clear technical advantage in these
types of work, but it’s really all down to Smith’s slower,
and thus safer tempi, that takes the edge off here. In the Giuliani, for
example, Williams emerges some two-and-a-half minutes faster. While speed
tends to be relative, it does have greater significance
when there are no visual enhancements. In terms of the faster pieces recorded
here, the Tárrega fares best, especially with its clearly-demanding
final section, based on the Act I ‘Ah! fors' e lui’
aria. There Smith hangs on well overall.
On the other hand, most concert reviews have always tended to highlight
the expressive, lyrical qualities of Smith’s playing. This aspect
is virtually as easy to replicate on a recording, as when heard in performance.
David Cottam’s Caprice for Maša
, consequently, comes
over better, where Smith’s clear expressive qualities and sensitivity
are so much more germane to this essentially melancholic essay. It was
written for a pupil of the composer, who came from Sarajevo, and suffered
during the terrible conflict there.
from Bach’s second Violin Sonata again is more
suited to Smith’s contemplative approach, even if it might just
have ‘walked’ with a slightly faster gait. The companion Allegro
is, by and large, articulately played, with an overall good sense of line
and forward motion.
Fellow-guitarist and composer, Gary Ryan’s highly-evocative Lough
is a most effective picture of a tranquil lake in the South
West of Ireland. Here the CD enters something of a purple patch, with
a group of pieces with which Smith has a more natural empathy.
Bill Loveday’s music is frequently heard on BBC Radio 3 and Classic
FM. A quick look at some of his varied musical associations – Julian
Lloyd Webber, Art Garfunkel, the late Ravi Shankar and South African trumpeter,
Hugh Masekela – clearly attests to his eclectic musical style. This
is confirmed by the four Incantations
recorded here. Again this
is Smith’s best territory.
If you’ve enjoyed Smith playing live, as many an audience has, and
want to take something of this home with you, then this CD will serve
the purpose. Alternatively, if you’re looking for side-by-side recordings
of the Gary Ryan, David Cottam and Bill Loveday pieces, this disc shouldn’t
Furthermore, to have the Albéniz, Giuliani, Tárrega and
Mertz is, in one respect, a bonus, although you would not probably consider
this disc for this reason alone, given the wealth of alternative performances
from which to choose.
The sleeve-notes are interesting and informative, since there is no requirement
for them to be overly erudite or academic. More fastidious proof-reading
should have picked up the ‘harmonius’ / ‘harmonious’
spellings on the brochure and track-list. There is the occasional slight
inconsistency between each note, as exemplified by the use of ‘Opus’
in one, and ‘Op.’ in another. The Bach Sonata No 2 is referred
to as ‘11’, rather than ‘II’, which could make
for a slight identity issue, and there is an example of the all-too-common
redundant apostrophe in the second track-note: ‘David has recorded
a number of CD’s [sic]
for solo guitar’ – something
which tends to rankle more.
In concluding, the CD, produced at a small studio in the heart of Devon,
has been well recorded, with the instrument enjoying a prominent, though
not-overly-close position in the soundstage.