Andrew Blanch: Spanish Classical Guitar With No BS

Review by: David Hurwitz

Blanch

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

We get dozens of requests every month to review artist-produced CDs, and probably half of those come from guitarists. It’s simply amazing how many of them there are. Obviously we have to be pretty selective in what we choose to review. Otherwise we could easily become a guitar site. Now let’s face it: the repertoire for classical guitar, though wider and more varied than you might at first expect, hardly matches that for other popular instruments: piano, violin, cello, even flute and clarinet, though it does beat the tuba, bassoon, saxophone, or harmonium (Siegfried Karg-Elert notwithstanding). Accordingly, most guitar recitals come in two flavors: “original,” containing proprietary compositions, most of which tend to be horrible, or “Spanish”–transcriptions and original works for the instrument from the only culture with a musical tradition of guitar-playing worth caring about. These tend to be more enjoyable, but they also come a dime a dozen.

All of this is a long way of saying that Australian performer Andrew Blanch is the real deal: a classical guitarist with the technique and musicality to put a personal stamp on some popular Spanish pieces, while assembling a program containing less conventional items as well. The result is extremely enjoyable from start to finish, smartly assembled for continuous listening, and above all honest. Indeed, the disc could serve as a model for how self-produced classical CDs ought to be made. Packaging and presentation are clear, attractive, and the notes well-written and informative. The disc promises “Spanish Guitar Music,” and that is just what we get: guitar music by Spanish composers or inspired by Spanish subjects. No stupid titles (“Moonlight Over Seville,” “My Spanish Soul,” “Impresiones Místicas”), no pretension, no pseudo-profundity or foolishness: just good music.

Blanch offers, for starters, three popular numbers by Falla from The Three-Cornered Hat and El amor brujo (but not the “Ritual Fire Dance,” happily). No Spanish guitar recital would be complete without Tarrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra, but it’s also very good to have the same composer’s Carnival of Venice variations to bring the recital to a rousing conclusion. Along the way we get three of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Caprichos de Goya–lovely works that display Blanch’s ability to create textural layering and the illusion of polyphony–plus splendid versions of Albéniz’ Sevilla and Malagueña, Miguel Llobet’s rarely heard Three Catalan Folksongs and his delightful Scherzo-Vals, Turina’s Fandanguillo, and two very guitar-ish Scarlatti sonatas, K. 146 and K. 175. This latter often sounds like a train wreck of banging and clanging on the harpsichord; here, it acquires a wholly idiomatic elegance and point.

All that remains to be said is that the recital is very well engineered, capturing a wide dynamic range in a flattering acoustic, and keeping performance noise to a minimum. Part of this last quality is undoubtedly due to Blanch’s own virtuosity on his instrument, including an impressive ability to jump between registers and manage awkward extensions with unusual smoothness and accuracy. He also uses vibrato to fine expressive effect, without overdoing it. You even get reproductions in the booklet of the three Goya prints that inspired Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s pieces. In short, anyone looking for an extremely enjoyable Spanish guitar collection could hardly ask for more. You can find the disc here.

 



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Recording Details:

Album Title: SPANISH GUITAR MUSIC
Reference Recording: None

Works by Falla, Tarrega, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Albéniz, Llobet, Turina, and Scarlatti


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