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Alwyn, Grace Williams, Arnold, Wordsworth. Searle, Joubert


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21st Century Spanish Guitar - Volume I
Eduardo MORALES-CASO (b.1969)
La Fragua de Vulcano (2009) [6:28]
Salvador BROTONS (b.1959)
Dues Noves Suggestions, Op. 121 (2011) [6:48]
David DEL PUERTO (b.1964)
Viento de Primavera (2009) [6:41]
Carlos CRUZ DE CASTRO (b.1941)
Sequencia Sefardita (2010) [6:36]
Ricardo LLORCA (b.1962)
Handeliana (2011) [6:59]
Leonardo BALADA (b.1933)
Caprichos No. 8: Abstractions of Albéniz (2010) [11:23]
Octavio VAZQUEZ (b.1972)
Suite: Nostos (2009) [16:57]
Adam Levin (guitar)
rec. 16-19 September, 2012, St. John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada
NAXOS 8.573024 [62:22]

Adam Levin put his Fulbright Scholarship to good use. The young American guitarist traveled to Spain and checked in on that country's latest guitar compositions; this is the first of a series dedicated to the music he found or commissioned while there.
 
There's a gratifying amount of diversity on display here. From Leonardo Balada, a more abstract voice of an older generation who grew up trained in avant-garde techniques, to Ricardo Llorca's Handeliana, an overt tribute to the past, the pieces suggest that the Spanish guitar scene is as varied, exciting, and as full of activity as it ever was. The one piece not being premiered here, Eduardo Morales-Caso's La Fragua de Vulcano (Vulcan's Forge), lives up to its title, and Levin made up for his not being first to the punch by commissioning the cover painting of the same title.
 
Conductor Salvador Brotons, who's appeared on Naxos several times, here turns composer, offering an especially fun Brasileira. David del Puerto's triptych of natural scenes, Viento de Primavera, ends with a scintillating rapid-motion dance. Carlos Cruz de Castro employs all sorts of exotic, mesmeric effects in a tribute to the Sephardic musical traditions of medieval Spain and its religious melting pot; this is a piece well worth noting and promoting.
 
It's also a great contrast with the work that follows, Handeliana, Ricardo Llorca's loving homage in the form of variations on a theme from Xerxes. Balada also ostensibly offers a look back to the past, Abstractions of Albéniz, with reflections of original pieces by that celebrated composer. Take the title “abstract” seriously, and don't expect something that sounds at all like Albéniz; much like similar works in which Balada has “abstracted” the likes of Chopin, the originals are seen through a glass, darkly.
 
Everything I like about this recital comes together in the final work, Octavio Vazquez' suite Nostos. The title is Greek for “homecoming”, and the suite is suggested by the composer as a kind of odyssey. Levin notes, in a personable and enthusiastic booklet essay that makes me very happy every time I read it, that it's odyssean in its technical challenges, too. This piece is advanced in language, full and “lush” (Levin's word) in harmonies, and appealing in every way. There's variety, more than one catchy tune, and enough substance that this feels like a truly important addition to the guitar repertoire. I'd go to any concert where it's on the program.
 
Actually, these are all important contributions to the repertoire, for which we have Levin to thank. He's clearly overjoyed to be playing them: you see it in his words in the booklet, and hear it on every track. These composers could not have asked for a better, more thoughtful and dedicated guitarist to premiere their works. If I'm especially excited about Vazquez' Nostos, it's as the crowning jewel of a superb CD produced by Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver to the high standards almost every Naxos guitar CD sets.
 
There are three more volumes to come. If they're as good as this, they'll form one of the most exciting guitar series of the century so far.
 
Brian Reinhart