The Results Are In! Blair J.’s Top Ten Classical Guitar Albums of 2019!

Nelly von Alven and Luiz Mantovani of the Nova Guitar Duo

Here for your debate, delight, and possible infuriation, is a list of my ten favorite CG albums I reviewed last year.

The usual caveats apply: I always say “favorites” rather than “best” because it’s all so subjective. We all have our own prejudices (good and bad) and inclinations, and things that move us and things that don’t. These are albums that really grabbed me, and of course there are many others that could have made the list ( I had 18 on my original list!). A couple of these came out near the end of 2018, but I didn’t get around to listening to them or reviewing them until 2019. They are presented here in alphabetical order by artist, and include links to the online reviews I wrote of them. Those reviews also include video or audio links, plus purchasing and streaming info. —Blair Jackson

Ritmos do Brasil, Nora Buschmann (Acoustic Music Records) German guitarist is revealed to be a true master when it comes to Brazilian repertoire.

Once Upon a Time…Music for Guitar and Piano, Duo Adentro (Etcetera)—Splendid outing from guitarist Maarten Vandenbemden and pianist Saskia Van Herzeele is overflowing with melodic beauty and sensitivity. Makes me wonder why there are not more guitar-piano duos out there!

Franz Schubert: A Sentimental Moment, Duo Morat-Fergo (Challenge Classics)—Danish-Swiss duo offer powerful and shimmering two-guitar readings of Schubert solo piano works.

Vintage, Marcin Dylla (Harris Guitar Foundation)—Britten’s Nocturnal After John Dowland, Ponce’s sprawling Variations on Folia de España and Fugue, and Villa-Lobos five Preludes all on the same disc? No problem for the great Marcin Dylla!

Eduardo Sáinz de la Maza: Guitar Music José Antonio Escobar (Naxos)—Sublime renderings of works by underrated 20th-century Spanish composer.


Suite Latina, Oliver Fartach-Naini (Ethnoclassics)—Bright, nimble, soulful readings of “Latin” suites by Máximo Diego Pujol, Richard Charlton, and Hector Ayala; all revelations!

Albéniz: España, Suite Española No. 1, Alec Holcomb (—All-Albéniz program is surprisingly fresh and original, brimming with youthful exuberance.

Sortilegios, Nova Guitar Duo (Stradivarius)—Exciting pairing of German Nelly von Alven and Brazilian Luiz Mantovani (on six- and eight-string guitars respectively) excels on program of works by Villa-Lobos, Mompou, and Falla.

Vivaldi, Etc., John Williams (JCW Recordings)—I didn’t actually review this Classical Guitar magazine or the website, but I did for sister publication Acoustic Guitar. Here’s the review I wrote for that mag’s new March/April issue:

One of the preeminent classical guitarists of his generation—and really, of all time—John Williams is 78 now, has stopped touring, and records less frequently these days. But, as this exquisite album of Baroque-era compositions by Bach, Vivaldi, Silvius Leopold Weiss, and Irish composer and harpist Turlough O’Carolan shows, Williams is still at the peak of his interpretive powers, playing his own marvelous transcriptions of pieces originally written for other instruments. In the case of Bach’s “Prelude, Fugue & Allegro” (BWV 998), he first recorded it when he was just 22 years old, but now finds that version “boring and so staid,” so he revisited it here.

I find that I am often most drawn to the slower, highly lyrical movements of Baroque works—in this case the “Larghetto” in the Vivaldi Concerto (Op. 3, No. 9), and the freestanding “Sarabandes” by Weiss (from a suite Williams used to play) and Bach (from “Violin Partita No. 1” BWV 1002); all are sensitively and passionately delivered. But the more spry movements are as full of life as one could hope for, too, and the recording by engineer Mike Horner captures every nuance of Williams’ sparkling and powerful Greg Smallman & Sons instrument.

And if you are unfamiliar with O’Carolan, this is a good place to start. Classical guitarists have increasingly been drawn to his works, which show both the influence of contemporaries like Vivaldi and folk music of the era in Ireland. Don’t miss this album!

Violin Concerto No. 3, Op. 9 (Vivaldi); Lute Suite No. 35, “Sarabande” (Weiss); Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E-flat major, BWV 998 (Bach); Violin Partita No. 1 in B minor, “Sarabande” and “Double,” BWV 1002 (Bach); Owen O’Rourke, Farewell to Music (O’Carolan)

The album can be purchased and/or streamed on Amazon, iTunes/Apple Music; and streamed via Spotify and YouTube, among other outlets.

Milonga del Angel, Xuefei Yang (guitar) and Mengla Huang (violin) (Deutsche Grammophon) The rare guitar-violin duo that truly gives the guitar its due, on pieces by Piazzolla, Falla, Paganini,and others.