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Mateusz Kowalski (guitar)
Classical Guitarist
rec. 2018, Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Hall
CD ACCORD ACD251-2 [56:08]

The young Polish guitarist Mateusz Kowalski started his guitar studies at the age of seven and was already as a teenager recognized as very promising. He soon was the winner of many international guitar competitions and after giving numerous concerts in Poland he has appeared in Slovakia, Hungary, France, Italy, Croatia, Liechtenstein, Spain, Germany, South Africa, Belgium, Great Britain, Sweden and Austria. In February 2020 he toured in the US, including both New York and Los Angeles. The present disc is, as far as I have been able to find out, his debut recording. He throws his net rather widely, spanning works from four centuries and several countries, even though Spanish and Latin American music is dominating.

The great Johann Sebastian Bach never composed anything for the guitar but he wrote seven works for the lute, although he doesn’t seem to have played the lute himself. But he knew professional lutenists whom he could consult in technical matters. The Lute Suite in E major is an arrangement of his third partita for solo violin, which originally may have been intended for another, non-specified instrument, why not the lute-harpsichord, which was fashionable at the time. The arrangement for guitar is by American Frank Koonce. It is a dynamic reading with the echo-effects well catered for.

To non-specialist listeners Francesco Tárrega is best known for the tremolo etude – real title being Recuerdos de Alhambra. But this early pioneer composed lots of beautiful melodious music. Here we meet him in a sunny mazurka in C major which is based on one of Chopin’s mazurkas. Guitarists have often transcribed music for other instruments for their own, often successfully. The other piece by Tárrega is a little gem among his fifteen preludes.

Manuel Ponce was Mexican but he went to Europe in the early 20th century to put the finishing touch to his piano playing. But he became a long-time friend with Segovia and wrote ‘authentic’ music for the guitar, which Segovia prized: Ponce is the best in guitar music melodically, harmonically and musically …’ The Vals from 1937 is an original composition for the guitar, while the much earlier Scherzino Mexicano was a piano piece, here arranged by Manuel López Ramos. It is a lovely piece!

Astor Piazzolla is since many years established as the one who brought the tango from the dance halls and brothels to the concert halls. His Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas or ‘The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires’, created in the late 1960s, have become one of his most popular large scale works. Originally written for his own quintet with his own bandoneon as the lead instrument. After his death Leonid Desyatnikov made new arrangements – in practice four violin concertos which links them to Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ with quotations from Vivaldi. Here Sérgio Assad has made his own arrangements for solo guitar of ‘Winter’ and ‘Spring’. The arrangements are truly ‘guitaristic’, and the playing is excellent. Assad is Brazilian and a second generation student of Segovia, since he studied with Monina Távora who in her turn studied with Segovia.

For his Variaciones sudamericanas, which here receives its first recording, he chose a study by the Spanish guitarist and composer Fernando Sor (1778 – 1839), the theme of which has a striking resemblance with a Scandinavian Christmas Carol first issued just before the turn of the century 1900. It’s beautiful but not very Spanish. The three variations are very attractive and the work should be an asset for guitarists who want to extend their repertoire. Mauro Giuliani was roughly contemporaneous with Sor and was an enormously productive composer for guitar. His speciality became the theme and variations structure, and very famous was – and is – Variations on a theme of Handel, Op. 107. Where the theme is known as "The Harmonious Blacksmith". He also wrote no less than six suites titled Rossiniana, of which the first is heard here and probably is the best known. The themes are culled from three operas by Rossini. After an andantino introduction follow:
Assisa a piè d’un salice (Otello)
Languir per una bella, Andante grazioso (L’Italiana in Algeri)
Con gran piacer, ben mio, Maestoso (L’Italiana in Algeri)
Caro, caro ti parlo in petto, Moderato (L’Italiana in Algeri)
Cara, per te quest’anima, Allegro Vivace (Armida)

It is highly entertaining and opera buffs should invest in the disc for the sake of this piece. Ideal for a quiz after a good dinner!

Agustin Barrios Mangoré was born in Paraguay but travelled widely in South and Central America and also toured Europe in 1936 but was never allowed to visit the US. He composed abundantly and since he was rediscovered by John Williams in the 1970s, he has been a great favourite of mine. The Vals et Tremolo recorded here is representative for his art: suave melodies, often spiced with tremolos. Mateusz Kowalski plays it to the manner born. And as an encore he offers his own arrangement of Schubert’s Moment musicaux No. 3, a lovely piece, bright and elegant and transposed to D minor. I can’t remember hearing for guitar before, but it works ideally.

The playing is assured throughout and lovers of guitar music should invest without delay. The attraction of this issue is further heightened through Mateusz Kowalski’s informative liner notes which constitute a reliable guide throughout the recital. My only complaint is the usual: why do they have to print the mini-sized text in grey on a dark grey background? Those designers never seem to learn!

Göran Forsling

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 – 1750)
1. Prelude from Lute Suite in E major BWV 1006a (1736-37) [4:05]
Arranged by Frank Koonce
Francisco TÁRREGA (1852 – 1909)
2. ‘Sueño’ Mazurka in C major (?) [1:51]
3. Prelude in E major No. 5 (?) [1:14]
Manuel María PONCE (1882 – 1948)
4. Vals (1937) [3:06]
5. Scherzino Mexicano (1909) [4:38]
Arranged by Manuel López Ramos
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921 – 1992)
6. Invierno Porteño (1969) [6:29]
7. Primavera Porteña (1970) [4:24]
Arranged by Sérgio Assad
Sérgio ASSAD (b. 1952)
Variaciones sudamericanas sobre un studio de Fernando Sor* (2017) [6:15]
8. Theme [1:16]
9. Vals venezoelano [1:08]
10. Canción [2:30]
11. Candombe [1:20]
Mauro GIULIANI (1781 – 1829)
12. Rossiniana Op. 19 No. 1 (ca 1820) [15:47]
Introduzione: Andantino – Andante grazioso – Maestoso – Moderato – Allegro vivace
Agustín BARRIOS MANGORÉ (1885 – 1944)
13. Contemplación. Vals et Tremolo (ca 1923) [5:00]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
14. Moment musicaux No. 3, D.780 in F minor (1822-26) [1:53]
Arranged by Mateusz Kowalski (in D minor)
* World Premiere recording

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