Review: Four Spanish Guitars | American Record Guide, February 26, 2016

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Four Spanish Guitars
Reviewed by Ken Keaton

AGUADO: Fandango Variado; Minuet; GIULIANI: Larghetto; SCHUMANN: Erste Verlust; DIABELLI: Minuet; MERTZ: An die Entfernte; Variations Mignonne; BATEMAN: Shaker’s Dance; TÁRREGA: Adelita; Mareiatta; Capricho Arabe; FALLA: Omenaje; WALLACE: Débil del Alba; Suite in B Minor
Frank Wallace, g—Gyre 10182—55 minutes

I reviewed a disc of Mr. Wallace’s compositions, with him as performer and was much impressed (July/Aug 2014). In this recital of traditional music, I am again.

The title, “Four Spanish Guitars”, refers to four instruments in his collection, each influenced by the first modern maker, Antonia Torres Jurado: an 1984 Manuel Gutierrez, an 1875 Manuel de Soto y Solares, a 1910 Manuel Ramírez, and a 1964 Ignacio Fleta. From his bold and bright sound, I assume he is using modern strings rather than gut. The repertory is paired appropriately—the 19th Century instruments with the 19th Century composers, Tárrega and Falla on the Ramírez, and his own works on the Fleta.

Wallace is a strong and sensitive player—his sound is remarkably consistent across the instruments. He has a huge range of dynamics, but never overplays, and also a wide timbral range. His readings are always tasteful (or nearly so—a quibble below), and he brings a welcome drama to the music. The pieces, not particularly familiar except for the Tárrega and Falla, are the sort of works I would give to my intermediate students. But his playing shows what they can sound like in the hands (and mind) of a real artist. I particularly enjoyed the Diabelli and Mertz. My only interpretive objection is that he overuses rubato on the Tárrega—like most other guitarists. For me, this makes the works sound cheap; it robs them of their purity and simplicity and reduces them to parlor music.

In the earlier disc his music was mostly non-tonal and gestural. This is quite tonal—indeed his Suite in B Minor brings to mind some of Ponce’s neo-Baroque compositions. I enjoyed meeting this part of his musical personality.

It’s an interesting program performed with real artistry, whether you’re interested in the sounds of the older instruments or not.

—Ken Keaton

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