Recent Albums by Raphaella Smits, Nora Buschmann, and Xuefei Yang & Mengla Huang (Violin)

Nora Buschmann's latest album is an all-Brazilian affair

Some 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 within the past few months.

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 (Amazon, for instance, has outlets in many different countries/regions, but we generally link to the U.S. version), so check your favorite places that sell CDs and downloads, as well as your favorite streaming sites!

To see links to all of our online album listings/reviews, click here.

                                                                                 —Blair Jackson

Ave Maria: Baroque Recital
Raphaella Smits
Soundset Recordings

As most of you are no doubt aware, Raphaella Smits is not a newcomer to the Baroque repertoire; indeed among her many previous studio album releases you’ll find 2000’s Baroque Guitar Sounds (featuring pieces by Bach and Sylvius Leopold Weiss) and 2009’s The Eight-Stringed Bach, both performed on eight-string guitar, as is this one. This new all-Baroque collection features two pieces each from Bach and Weiss, as well as a full suite by Henry Purcell  and a meaty Fantasie by Georg Philipp Telemann. On those three discs, there appears to be just one repeated work: Bach’s famous Chaconne from Violin Partita No. 2.

Because I was familiar with her Eight-Stringed Bach version of the Chaconne (or Ciaccona), it’s appearance on the new album sent me back to that disc and also in search of the earlier Baroque Guitar Sounds interpretation, to hear how Smits’ treatment of the epic piece has changed through the years. And the most obvious difference is in the tempos. The first one comes in at a little over 12 minutes, the next at a little over 14, and the latest around 16, so she has slowed it down considerably. Is that a good thing? Well, your personal taste may vary (’twas ever thus!), but I feel like the more methodical version on this album has a certain thoughtfulness and depth that I really admire. The trademark frills and fast-fingered runs are intact and smoothly executed, but perhaps feel even more spiritually connected to the melodically deliberate passages around them. The recording by Juan Salvador Martin at Rockaway Studios in Castelión, Spain, is clear and present, with the resonant “extra” strings sounding natural, without exaggeration. Frankly, this is a nice sonic upgrade from the overly reverberant, occasionally garish sound of The Eight-Stringed Bach.

The other Chaconne on the new album—from a lute suite by Bach’s nearly exact contemporary, Weiss (he was born two years after Bach but died in the same year, 1750)—is also slower than many versions, but no less effective, and it actually pairs very well with Bach’s; the two definitely share certain similarities. Where Smits’ penchant for more measured tempos works best here might be the lovely four-part Purcell Suite No. 2, originally for harpsichord. I suspect it would be nearly impossible to play on guitar at the speedy clip of most harpsichord renderings, and this one assuredly feels right to me. (It strikes me as unusual that the piece ends with a sarabande!) The Telemann Siciliana-Vivace-Allegro from his (violin) Fantasie No. 9 is similarly de-accelerated, but also works nicely, and has some quite-virtuosic moments that Smits handles with ease.

Perhaps opening the program with the gently unfolding sounds of Ave Maria set the tone for the rest of this serious and meditative outing.

Prelude, BWV 846 “Ave Maria (Méditation)” (J.S. Bach, Gounod); Ciaconna, Suite No. 10 (Weiss); Prelude, Suite No. 2 ; Prelude, Almand, Corant, Saraband (Purcell); Fantasie No. 9: Siciliana-Vivace-Allegro (Telemann); Fantasie No. 9 (Weiss); Ciaconna, Partita Seconda, BWV 1004 (J.S. Bach)


This Baroque Recital can by sampled and purchased through Soundset Recordings or bought from Strings By Mail.  Streaming options are in the process of being worked out.

Ritmos do Brasil
Nora Buschmann
Acoustic Music Records

This is one of those albums that grabbed immediately—literally from the first buzzing thrum of the jaunty opening piece, Carlos Aguirre’s exciting Baião—and then easily held my interest (and admiration) for its entire 16 tracks. German guitarist (and teacher) Nora Buschmann has shown a particular affinity for South American music on past releases (though certainly not exclusively), so it makes sense that she would be comfortable enough and more than able to put across an entire program of Brazilian pieces. On this thoroughly wonderful album she has chosen a dynamic mix of mostly 20th-century pieces by such well-known composers as Villa-Lobos (two preludes and two chôros), Baden Powell (including the exquisite Chará), João Pernambuco (the popular, intoxicating Sons de carrilhões), Antônio Carlos Jobim (the ubiquitous Felicidade, in the Dyens arrangement, of course), Garoto, and Pixinguinha. And I suspect that folks who are greater aficionados of Brazilian music that I am probably know Dilermando Reis, who has two fine pieces here (Eterna saudade is especially affecting), and perhaps even Fabian Zeller, who has an interesting and engaging work called Otra, dedicated to Buschmann. I should also note that the final two tracks—by Pixinguinha and Waldir Azevedo—find Buschmann playing octave guitar (which sounds almost mandolin-like) in a duo with fellow guitarist Ricardo Moyano.

The playing throughout is flawless and filled with passion and energy. And, almost as important, the sequencing of the album is absolutely impeccable—the way Buschmann varies the moods and rhythms of the pieces from first piece to last is so artful and intelligent. This album is a winner in every respect!

Besides the video below, I’d also recommend you check out her sparkling version of Baião, which we posted as a Video Pick of the Week in the summer of 2018.

Baião (Aguirre); Valsa Choro (Villa-Lobos); Mazurka Choro (Villa-Lobos); Valsa sem nome (Powell); Chará (Powell); Otra (Zeller); Prelude 1 (Villa-Lobos); Prelude 5 (Villa-Lobos); Eterna saudade (Reis); Sons de carrilhões (Pernambuco); Se ela perguntar (Reis); Felicidade (Jobim, arr. Dyens); Jorge do Fusa (Garoto); Sensivel (Pixinguinha); Queira-me bem (Azavedo)

You can purchase and stream this album though the Acoustic Music Records websiteAmazon, and iTunes/Apple Music, and streamed on Spotify and YouTube.

Milonga del Angel
Mengla Huang (violin) and Xuefei Yang (guitar)
Deutsche Grammophon

They play acoustic instruments, of course, but there’s definitely something electric about this pairing of Chinese virtuosi, both widely considered among the most gifted players of their respective instruments. The duo are marvellously in-sync every second of this more than one-hour recital of pieces by Spanish composers Manuel de Falla, Isaac Albeniz, and Enrique Granados, Italian Niccolò Paganini, and Argentine/Italian Astor Piazzolla. The first three were pianists, of course, Paganini primarily a violinist (though also a guitarist), and Piazzolla a bandoneon  player, yet works by all five have long been popular among classical guitarists.

So, Yang and Huang cover some familiar ground here—Falla’s Danza Española No. 1, Albéniz’s Tango, Granados’ La Maja de Goya, and Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango, Libertango, and Milonga del Angel being the most-played in the guitar world by my estimation. But they imbue everything they touch with so much freshness, verve, and insight. To hear Huang’s violin alternately soaring and skittering above Yang’s steady rolling accompaniment and fluid unison and contrapuntal lines on the Danza is truly to experience the piece anew. Their chemistry is strong throughout, and though the violin tends to dominate somewhat as the carrier of the melody, the arrangements are, on balance, deferential to both players. This is, not surprisingly perhaps, most evident in Paganini’s spectacular three-movement Sonata Concertata and in the “Romanza” from that composer’s Grand Sonata, both written for guitar and violin and requiring a fair amount of acrobatic playing by each. (“Romanza” is an often-played piece by solo guitarists.)

And some of the pieces are not quite as common in the guitar repertoire, such as Granados’ stately and genteel El Majo Discreto and heartbreaking La Maja Dolorosa No. 3, and Falla’s Suite populaire espagnole, parts of which occasionally turn up as solo or duo guitar pieces, but seem more common as guitar-and-soprano duets. The guitar-violin combo here is exquisite!

If you want to hear two exceptional players at the top of their craft, you really owe it yourself to listen to this. And with any luck, Huang’s popularity in the mainstream classical world might bring some of his fans into our still growing classical-guitar universe.

Danza Española No. 1 (de Falla); Tango (Albéniz); El Majo Discreto (Granados); La Maja de Goya (Granados); Sonata Concertata, MS2 (Paganini); La Maja Dolorosa (Granados); Histoire Du Tango, pts. 1–3 (Piazzolla); Romance (Paganini); Suite populaire espagnole (de Falla); Libertango (Piazzolla); Milonga del Angel (Piazzolla)

The album can be purchased and streamed through Amazon and iTunes/Apple Music, and streamed on Spotify, Deezer, and YouTube.