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Incandescent
Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)
Asturias (Leyenda) (No 5 Suite española, Opus 47) [7:06]
David COTTAM (1951- )
Caprice for Maša [2.32]
Mauro GIULIANI (1781-1829)
Variations on a Theme of G. F. Handel, Op. 104 [9.05]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Andante (Sonata 11 BWV 1003) [5.12]
Allegro (Sonata 11 BWV 1003) [6.26]
Francisco TÁRREGA (1852-1909)
Fantasia on Themes from La Traviata [7.11]
Gary RYAN (b.1969)
Lough Caragh [6.40]
William LOVELADY (b.1945)
Incantation no 1 [4.52]
Incantation no 2 [4.15]
Incantation no 6 [2.25]
Incantation no 7 [2.15]
Johann Kasper MERTZ (1806 – 1856)
Fantaisie Hongroise Op. 65 No. 1
Alison Smith (classical guitar)
rec. 28 June, 23 July, 24-25 October 2013, Pump Cottage, Morchard Bishop
Private release ASICD02 [64:59]
  
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 need.
 
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 well-catered for.
 
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 restraint.
 
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 located there.
 
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 Variations, Tárrega’s Fantasia on Themes from La Traviata or Mertz’s Fantaisie Hongroise Smith appears 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 per se 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.
 
The Andante 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 Caragh 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 disappoint.

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.
 
Philip R Buttall


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