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Guitar Recital
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)

Sonata K491 [5:28]
Sonata K208 [4:03]
Sonata K209 [5:02]
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)
Evocación [6:32]
El Puerto [4:49]
Leo BROUWER (b. 1939]
The Ancient Cyclades [8:02]
Toru TAKEMITSU (1930-1996)
In the Woods (1995) [16:05]
Sonata in D Major, Op. 77 (1934) [16:34]
Toots THIELMANNS (1922-2016)
Bluesette [1964) [4:28]
Ji Hyung Park (guitar)
rec. 2019, Challow Park Studios, Wantage, UK
NAXOS 8.574140 [71:42]

Refreshingly, this recording makes no attempt to group a programme of disparate music under the umbrella of an irrelevant theme. While not particularly artistic or creative, the title ‘Guitar Recital’ explains exactly what you get; it is a victory of fact over marketing fiction.

The programme includes music from the Baroque, Post-Romantic and Contemporary periods. In addition to transcriptions/arrangement there are three original works for guitar written within the 20th and 21st century. Music from the pen of Leo Brouwer was composed in 2018, and enjoys its world premiere recording here. The name of Toots Thielmans occurs rarely on classical guitar recordings, but his Bluesette (1964) is the last track on this CD.

Born in 1993, Ji Hyung Park commenced his association with the guitar at nine years of age under the tutelage of Do-Hyung Kim. Commencing in 2009, and for the ensuing four years, Park studied at the Korean National University of Arts gaining a Bachelor’s Degree. He continued studies in Paris, and in 2014 was the first Korean to enter the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse where he gained a Master’s Degree as a student of Roland Dyans. He has won many music prizes in international guitar competitions including First Prize in the 7th Changsha International Guitar Competition, one of the biggest in Asia.

Guitar aficionados will be well aware of the Naxos Laureate Series for the classical guitar, which has made a fine, comprehensive and exhaustive contribution to its discography. Capable, but unknown, players are often not the key target of international recording companies. Naxos, as well as serving its own commercial interests, provided a platform by which many young players have become internationally recognized and appreciated.

The majority of Naxos guitar recordings in the Laureate Series were made in Canada at St John. Chrysostom Church, Ontario and produced by Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver. This recording departs from that tradition being recorded at Challow Park Studios, Wantage, UK and produced by Gerald Garcia, co-produced and engineered by Oli Witworth.

The acoustic environment in which an instrument is played and recorded can, understandably, have significant impact on the final result. While this is a truism for all instruments and voices, it is especially important for the diminutive sound of the guitar. We may conjecture how much the different recording environment contributed acoustically to the very appealing sounds encountered on this recording.

The first track is an arrangement of Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata K491 by guitarist David Russell, and sets the stage for the superior guitar playing imminently to be experienced. Such is the nature of this Scarlatti sonata, and the superb way in which it is played, initially one may query if in fact there are two guitars, rather than just one. The configuration of cross-string trills, rapid scale passages, complex arppegiation, and thirds set against lively bass lines admirably demonstrates both the technical skill of the player, and the polyphonic capabilities of the instrument. In the music of Albeniz from Iberia, Park shows good empathy with this splendid piano music. Emerging in Evocation, and reinforced in El Puerto, is a wide range in dynamics and impressive ‘attack’ as appropriate to the score.  The Ancient Cyclades (6) by Brouwer , although it may take repeated listening to discover its virtues, is a prime vehicle for Park to again show just how assertive the sound of the guitar can be in the hands of a virtuoso: one capable of revealing the concealed soul that evades many guitarists.

Classical guitarist often cannot resist the temptation to cross over into other genres. Flamenco, The Beatles, and Jazz are prime preoccupations; this time Toots Thielemans’ Bluesette is given a technically masterful rendition. Whether or not it musically meets essential jazz criteria may long be debated.

While this recording has a number of virtues, its overall sound is one of the most impressive. The combination of acoustic environment and engineering, player technical facility and quality of instrument used, collectively contributes to the final result. Park uses an impressive instrument, constructed by Gernot Wagner which plays a stellar role in the overall result; just how significant is impossible to ascertain outside of live recital.

Luthier, Hans Benning serviced the Guarneri del Gesù violin owned by Jascha Heifetz during the latter part of the violinist’s life. After Heifetz’s death, Benning heard the violin played by someone else; same music, same orchestra, same violin but it sounded totally different. Such is the influence of a master’s hand on the sound of a stringed instrument, the guitar in particular where, atypically, both hands are in contact with the strings.

Over the past several decades, young Asians with precocious musical talent have commenced embracing the guitar in what seems to be ever-increasing numbers. Paralleling the Asian success with all Western culture instruments adopted, this guitar cohort does it well - but none better than Park.

Zane Turner

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