Neil Smith (gtr)
UNIZARRE 001 (46:02)
4 Spanish Dances.
Sonata in D,
Sevilla (Sevillanas). Cantos de España,
Preludio: Leyenda (Asturias),
Danza IV: Villanesca; Danza VI: Rondalla Aragonesa.
Fantasia a la Gallega
Neil Smith (gtr)
UNIZARRE 002 (48:07)
Grand Sonata in A.
Variations in A on the Theme from Handel’s “Harmonious Blacksmith,”
Fantasy for Guitar No. 6,
for Piano in D Minor/
op. 92/12, “Bermeja”
Ever since first hearing a disc of etudes by Fernando Sor, the “Beethoven of the guitar,” many years ago, I’ve loved the sound of the instrument and much of the music written for it. All but one of the composers represented on these two CDs contributed original works to the guitar’s repertoire. The exception, I believe (and I could be wrong on this), is Granados. If I’m not mistaken, the pieces by him often played on guitar are all arrangements of piano works. But this raises a small confusion about these albums. Both releases state that
[my emphasis] tracks are arranged by Neil Smith. Obviously, some of these pieces are indeed arrangements, as are the Albéniz numbers and, of course, the Paganini sonata, which was written as a duo for violin and guitar. But the Sor, Tárrega, and Giulani pieces are definitely guitar originals, so I don’t know what, if anything, Smith has done to arrange or embellish them.
This brings me to my second observation about these two albums, which relates to Unizarre’s presentation, not to the recordings themselves, and certainly not to Smith’s performances. It took me far longer to prepare the above headnotes than it should have—I must credit ArkivMusic for taking the trouble to detail the track listings for these CDs—because unless one is familiar with this music, one wouldn’t have a clue from Unizarre’s track listings or practically non-existent single-folded-page insert what the source of any of these pieces is. It’s simply not acceptable practice in the world of classical music to list a piece by Albéniz, for example, as
without indicating that it comes from the composer’s
; a piece by Sor merely as
, without identifying it as the nickname for the composer’s Fantasy No. 6; or a piece by Granados only as
Danza IV Villanesca
, without telling us that it comes from the composer’s
op. 37. The anonymous liner notes, too, are just plain amateurish.
I see from its website that Unizarre specializes in the creation, development, and production of major film, television, and theatrical productions. The numbering of these two CDs, 001 and 002, also suggests that this is the organization’s first foray into the classical music arena. If I express irritation with such lack of attention to production details, it’s because it does a disservice to one of the finest guitarists and two of the most enjoyable guitar discs I know.
Neil Smith, a British guitarist, received early training on the instrument from students of Segovia, Miguel Llobet, and John William Duarte. Further study at the University of Toronto with Alirio Diaz and Leo Brouwer led to Smith’s critically acclaimed Wigmore Hall debut. He has since appeared in over 40 countries, toured with leading conductors and orchestras, and led master classes. Smith is no newcomer to the guitar scene. He’s been active for over 30 years, and his discography extends back to the days of LP.
It’s hard to describe the beauty of Smith’s playing. The albums manage to get in a plug for D’Addario, the U.S. maker of Smith’s guitar strings, but not even his personal website, guitaristuk.com, reveals the maker of his instrument. It would be nice to know, because the sound Smith produces on it is just gorgeous. I’d call it the viola of guitars, with a big, deep, sonorous tone. His technique, too, is phenomenal. Just listen to the Paganini sonata, in which Smith has apparently merged the violin and guitar parts into a real virtuoso display piece. The sliding sound on the strings one often hears when guitarists shift along the fingerboard is totally absent from Smith’s playing; his shifts are dead silent. His talents as arranger are also on display in the pieces by Albéniz and Granados adapted from piano.
There’s not a single piece on either of these discs that is not an unalloyed pleasure to hear, and arranged or not, all of this music is of compelling beauty. If you appreciate the guitar, these are two CDs you should not be without. Urgently recommended, despite my earlier comments about Unizarre’s shoddy presentation.