Recent Releases Tuesday: Albums by Meng Su, Raphaella Smits, Michaela Hrabankova & Gabriel Bianco, and Mark Westling

Meng Su

Here’s our bi-weekly listing of some of the CDs that have come into the Classical Guitar office recently.

If you have a CD you’d like to submit to us, here’s our address:

Classical Guitar
501 Canal Blvd. suite J
Richmond, CA 94804-3505

Some of these will be reviewed in the magazine, some not. But we want to at least mention 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!

To see our previous listings, scroll to the bottom of the page.

                                                                                 —Blair Jackson

Meng Su Meng
Meng Su
Tonar Music

This outstanding solo outing from one-half of the renowned Beijing Guitar Duo covers a broad spectrum, with a pair of moody pieces by film composer John Williams (Avner’s Theme, from ‘Munich‘ opens the CD; closing it is a work Williams wrote for the Parkening Guitar Competition); Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s splendid, five-part Sonata “Omaggio a  Boccherini“; a sparkling and evocative rendering of Bach’s popular Lute Suite No. 4; a pair of short Tárrega pieces; and in a more modern vein, William Walton’s intriguing Five Bagatelles. The playing by this still-rising star is faultless throughout.

Avner’s Theme, from ‘Munich’ (Williams); Sonata ‘Omaggio a Boccherini,” Op. 77 (Castelnuovo-Tedesco); Gran Vals (Tárrega); Rosita (Tárrega); Lute Suite No. 4 in E Major, BWV 1006a (Bach); Five Bagatelles (Walton); Rounds (Williams)

Listen to samples and/or purchase CDs or MP3s through Tonar Music, CDBaby, or Amazon.

Guitar Recital
Raphaella Smits
Soundset Recordings

When I finally saw Raphaella Smits perform at GFA last summer, her skill and passion were very much on display throughout her program, so I should not be surprised  that this latest recorded offering is also a rich and deeply felt “recital.” Just three composers are represented: Manuel Maria Ponce (four of the five movements of his gorgeous homage to Weiss, written for Segovia, with its deep, affecting “Sarabande” and spry, memorable “Gigue”); Barrios (two preludes and the beautifully wistful Leyenda Guarani); and Mompou (his tonally variegated 1962 Suite Compostelana, which seems to be quite popular among players these days). Everything about this project is completely top-notch; the recording of the late luthier John Gilbert’s 1980 8-string guitar is spectacular!

Suite en la meno: Homage to S.L. Weiss (Ponce); Preludio en la menor, Preludio en do menor, Leyenda Guarani (all by Barrios); Suite Compostelana (Mompou)

Purchase through Soundset; U.S distribution coming soon. All tracks can be heard on YouTube.


Here’s a recent video of Smits playing Barrios’ Leyenda Guarani:

Gabriel Bianco (guitar), Michaela Hrabankova (oboe)
Ad Vitam

French guitarist Bianco and Czech oboist Hrabankova make a wonderful match on this enthralling disc culled from the admittedly small repertoire written for their two instruments. (Actually one piece here, Napoléon Coste’s Le Depart, is just solo guitar, deftly handled.) Coste (1805–1883) is the only 19th century composer among the four of the disc, but the other three, whose pieces all date from the 1940s, appear to owe more to Romantic, Classical, and even Baroque antecedents—not to mention some folk sources—than to composers of the modern era. Still, there are nods to modernity (particularly in Barna Kováts’ Sonatine pour hautbois et guitare), but nothing jarring; clearly the goal of this was to delight and enchant, and it succeeds at both.

Sonatine pour hautbois et guitar (Pilss); Le Départ (Coste); Deuxième Sonate pour hautbois et guitar (Rebay); Le Montagnard (Coste); Sonatine pour hautbois et guitar (Kováts)

This April 2017 release can be pre-ordered through Ad Vitam; and should be be available for download from a few different sources once it is formally released, so check back at the Ad Vitam site. Here’s a YouTube audio version of the first movement of Karl Pilss’ Sonatine pour hautbois et guitar, recorded a year before the CD.

Below, the duo performs the “Rondeau” from Coste’s Le Montagnard at Festival Oboe 2017 at Paris’ Eglise Sainte Elisabeth de Hongrie on February 25, 2017:

Classical Guitar
Mark Westling

Here’s an inspiring story: Mark Westling was what he calls “a devoted amateur guitarist” for 30 years beginning in 1972, inspired by recordings of Segovia, Williams, Bream, Ghiglia, and Parkening, among others. In 2002, his car was rammed from behind by a speeding car, it rolled over four or five times, and he suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and 38 fractures from the waist up, including five neck vertebrae. “Some 28 years of classical guitar technique were wiped out by those five seconds on the freeway,” he says, and he’s been on permanent disability ever since. “I couldn’t touch an instrument for a couple of years, much less play anything.” This CD “is the result of 14 years of hard work, rehabilitation, and therapy.” The album consists of nine short pieces from different periods; as he puts it, “though these are ‘small works’ in comparison to many virtuoso pieces in the guitar’s beautiful repertoire, I gave them all the care, love, and attention I could muster.” Playing a 1973 José Ramirez Brazilian rosewood guitar, Westling keeps it simple and straightforward on this mostly balladic program. My own favorites are the two Tárrega studies and the two concluding contemporary pieces by David Brandon and Gregory Coleman, which fit neatly with the better-known pieces that precede them.

Italian Renaissance: Preludio, Canzone (both anonymous); Two English Ballads: Scarborough Fair (anonymous), Yesterday (McCartney); Spanish Romantic: Estudio in C Major, Estudio No. 2 in E minor (both by Tárrega), Romanza (anonymous); 20th Century Works: French Lullaby (Brandon), Marie’s Dance (Coleman)

To preview and purchase go to CDBaby, iTunes, or Amazon.

Previous New CD Listings:

October 4: Jacob Cordover, Oleg Timofeyev and John Schneiderman, Arkaïtz Chambonnet, Matthew Fish, Gidi Ifergan

October 18: Norbert Kraft and Jeffrey McFadden, Steve Cowan, Katrin Endrikat, Jason Vieaux and Julien Labro, Yenne Lee, Emanuele Segre

November 1: Virginia Luque and Bojidara Kouzmanova, Jon Gjylaci, Fabiano Borges, Alfonso Baschiera, Miscelanea Guitar Quartet, J.P. McShane

November 15: Antigoni Goni, Adam Levin, Radoŝ Malidžan, Black Cedar, Lou Marinoff, Antonio Malinconico

November 22: Marcelo de la Puebla, ChromaDuo, Carsten Pedersen, Thibaut Garcia, Yiannis Giagourtas

December 13: Zsófia Boros, Andrea Bissoli, Philippe Sly & John Charles Britton, Carlos Dorado, Steven Joseph

December 27:  João Carlos Victor, Frank Wallace, Simon Thacker & Justyna Jablonska

January 10: Alberto La Rocca, Jeffrey McFadden & Michael Kolk, Stefan Koim

January 24: Fabio Zanon, Marcelo Kayath, David Norton & Cindy Spell, Jeff Gosselin

February 7: Canadian Guitar Quartet, Mats Bergström, John Sargent, Dimitris Kotronakis

February 21: James Akers & Gary Branch, Karol Samuelčík, Josef Mazan, John Lehman-Haupt