Spanish Magic: Recent Albums from Jorge Caballero and Kazu Suwa
Most weeks we take a peek at recent albums or sheet music releases. Here are three of the CDs that have come into the Classical Guitar office recently.
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Some of the albums we talk about online will be reviewed in the magazine, some not. But we want to at least mention most of them here. You can listen to some of these on various of streaming services, but we always encourage you to support the artists by actually buying anything you like! Obviously we cannot research and report every outlet or online business where these albums are sold, so check your favorite places that sell CDs and downloads!
To see our previous listings, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Albéniz Jorge Caballero
Here’s an album you should not miss! Jorge Caballero, the extraordinary Peruvian virtuoso famous for the breadth of his repertoire, including tackling and mastering pieces that are notoriously difficult to play on guitar (such as Kazuhito Yamashita’s arrangements of works by Mussorgsky and Dvorak, and his own version of Berg’s Piano Sonata Op. 1), shines brilliantly on this album devoted entirely to solo guitar arrangements of piano works by Isaac Albéniz (1860–1909). Now, it’s certainly not unusual to hear guitar takes on Albéniz—is there a Spanish “guitar” piece more played than Asturias/Leyenda, popularized by Segovia? That’s here, of course, under its actual title, Preludio (or Prélude), the opening work in Albéniz’s Chants D’Espagne (or Cantos de España); the other titles were attached to the piece after the composer’s death. Caballero presents the entire five-part suite in his own arrangements—his Preludio is less flashy, perhaps a little slower, but also deeper than some I’ve heard. It fits wonderfully on the album, especially in its slot following four works from Albéniz’s Iberia (which consisted of four books of three pieces), again in arrangements by Caballero.
It’s amazing to consider what Caballero has done here. Most of the pieces he’s chosen have more commonly been played by guitar duos, or even trios—fitting for the at times nearly orchestral complexity of Albéniz’s writing, which is not that easy even for the ten fingers of a pianist with ready access to all those octaves. That’s why it made sense for John Williams and Julian Bream to play Bajo la Palmera and Evocación as a duo, and why Williams elected to record El Albaicín, fronting an orchestra. But Caballero has managed to create effective translations to solo guitar, without sacrificing too much from the piano originals. In fact, I did a side-by-side piano-guitar comparison with three of the pieces; for example, listening first to Ricardo Vines’ 1930 piano recording of Oriental (from Chants), then immediately listening to Caballero’s transcription. Of course, the guitar version does not have quite the same drama or as powerful dynamic shifts, but it definitely capture the piece’s emotional—and thoroughly Spanish—essence, the full contour of the melody, and boasts enough beautifully executed ornamentation that it communicates its own distinct personality. And Caballero peppers many of these arrangements with perfectly employed harmonics that bring a magical delicacy to certain passages that even surpasses the piano.
Of the ten pieces on the disc, only the concluding Capricho Catalán is by another arranger (Michael Lorimer). The rest are Caballero’s, and full of imagination and virtuosic playing. The recording, by Brazilian engineer Ricardo Marui in 2015, is perfect. I know it’s only April, but I already know this is going to be one of my favorite albums this year!
From Iberia:Evocación, El Puerto, El Albaicín,Málaga; From Chants D’Espagne: Preludio, Oriental, Bajo la Palmera, Córdoba, Seguidillas; From España: Capricho Catalán
London-based Japanese guitarist Kazu Suwa follows up his 2015 release of Spanish and South American works (Guitar Recital) with a stronger, better-recorded set dominated by Spanish composers from different epochs, from the Renaissance to the 20th century. It opens with a trio of slightly solemn 16th century pieces originally written for vihuela by Luys de Milán and Enríquez de Valderrábano, but then picks up the energy with a lovely rendering of a piece by Sor. Suwa does a fine job on both the lyrical passages and the occasionally speedy runs that require deft and precise fingering.
Curiously (perhaps), there are two much more modern works by non-Spanish composers in the middle of the album: Norwegian Edvard Grieg’s piano work Ensom vandre, from his third Lyric Book, is one of the prettiest pieces on the disc; and British composer Reginald Smith Brindle’s El Polifemo de Oro makes for a dour but effective companion to the preceding version of de Falla’s Homenaje pour Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy (probably the most-performed piece on the album). The tone of the album then shifts dramatically for the rest of the disc, which is generous selection of pieces by Spanish composer/guitarist Angel Barrios (1882–1964)—not to be confused with the more famous Paraguayan composer/guitarist Augustín Barrios. Hearing this large concentration of pieces was quite a revelation to me; as I’d only heard a few of these in isolation here and there. All are deeply imbued with an appealing Spanish lyricism and romanticism that is easy to embrace. A few of these pieces (such as Cristinilla) almost sound like they could have been written by the other Barrios, but that is no slight, as there is genuine passion in these works, and the emotions evoked in a ballads like Eloísa and Jardin grandino are profound. I can’t tell you why this Barrios’ works aren’t played more than they seem to be, but perhaps this album will help change that. Hats off to Kazu Suwa for presenting such a deep dive into this relatively unheralded repertoire, and so beautifully!
Fantasia X, Fantasia VIII (Milán); Soneto (de Valderrábano); Introduction et variations sur l’Air: Que ne suis-je la fougère! (Sor); ‘Ensom vandre’ from Lyric Pieces Book 3 (Grieg); Homenaje pour Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy (de Falla); El Polifemo de Oro—quattro frammenti per chitarra (Brindle); Flor Granadina, Cristinilla, Eloísa, De Cádiz a La Habana, Viejo romance, Jardín grandino, Rosario de la aurora Arroyos de la Alhambra: Evocación, Tonadilla (Ángel Barrios)