Review from:

Serenata Mexicana – Alejandro Basulto, Arturo Marquez; Morgan Szymanski, Jamie MacDougall, Gabriella Dall’Olio, Shakespeare Sinfonia, David Curtis; Toccata Next 
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 3 December 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½) 
An engaging selection of contemporary Mexican works, celebrating recent commissions by the Anglo Mexican Foundation

This disc, first on the Toccata Next label, was released earlier this year to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Anglo-Mexican Foundation. The disc features three recent commissions by Mexican composers, Alejandro Basulto and Arturo Marquez, performed by the Shakespeare Sinfonia, conductor David CurtisMorgan Szymanski (guitar), Jamie MacDougall (tenor), and Gabriella Dall’Olio (harp).
The programme on the disc is closely linked to Anglo Arts, the cultural programme of The Anglo Mexican Foundation, which commissioned Dibujos sobre un Puerto from Arturo Marquez for tenor Jamie MacDougall, and in 2015 commissioned the young composer Alejandro Basulto, and the resulting piece, Jig variation, was performed in Mexico by David Curtis and the Orchestra of the Swan as part of the official activities to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and resulted in a second commission for Basulto specifically for this recording, Pequena Serenata ranchera.

Alejandro Basulto started out as a classical guitarist before discovering his love of composing. Pequena Serenata ranchera for string orchestra, links the various meanings of serenata, both modern and historical, to create a narrative which has a distinctly Mexican feel. The result is an attractive 14-minute work where the writing for strings has a somewhat neo-classical feel, with suggestions of European works for string orchestra from the 1950s, but mixing in more popular elements too.

Basulto’s Jig Variations for guitar and chamber orchestra was inspired by the story of Will Kemp (a comic actor in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men) morris-dancing his way from London to Norwich in 1600. Basulto’s piece is a set of nine variations on Kemp’s Jig which was first published by John Playford in 1651. A delightful work which showcases the brilliance guitar playing of Morgan Szymanski, Basulto’s style varies from consciously period treatments of the tune to more modern, often with an interesting tang to the harmony. Basulto’s Mexican background adds an interesting extra layer to the music, which is often remarkably catchy.

Arturo Marquez began his training in California, and later studied at the Conservatoire of Music of Mexico, and the Taller de Composicion of the Institute of Fine arts of Mexico, and at the California Institute of the Arts. Dibujos sobre un Puerto is for tenor and harp, and commemorated the centenary of the birth of Mexican poet Jose Gorostiza (1901-1973) by setting six of Gorostiza’s poems, Dibujos sobre un Puerto (Sketches above a harbour). The five movements, ‘El Alba (Dawn)’, ‘Elegia (Elegy)’, ‘Cantarcillo (Little Tune)’, ‘La Tarde (Evening)’, ‘Nocturno-Oracion (Nocturne-Prayer)’ moves from dawn to night, with the poet above the harbour musing on what he sees. They form an attractive sequence with a mix of voice and instrument, neither one being the dominant partner. The musical forms are traditional, but there is plenty of interest in Marquez’ harmonic language.

The final work on the disc is Mascaras (Masks), Marquez’ concerto for harp and chamber orchestra written in 1998. Its movements deal with masks in Mexican culture, with two referring to the uprising of the Chiapas Indians in the 1990s, fighting for the rights of indigenous peoples, where the mask was a symbol of the movement. The work was premiered by the harpist, Lidia Tamayo to whom it is dedicated.

The first movement, ‘Mascara Flor (Mask Flower) is quietly lyrical, with the harp prominent, ‘Mascara Son’ is rather more up-tempo, ‘La Pasion segun San Juan de Letran’ is lyrical with interesting underlying rhythms and bursts of liveliness, whilst the last movement ‘La Pasion segun Margus’ is a lively dance’.

This disc is an attractive view of contemporary Mexican music, with two composers many will not have heard of and engaging performance of a selection of striking works. Definitely a disc to explore.

Alejandro Basulto (born 1984) – Pequena Serenate Ranchera (2018)
Alejandro Basulto (born 1950) – Jig Variations (2016)
Arturo Marquez – Dibujos sobre un Puerte (2001)
Arturo Marquez – Mascaras
Morgan Szymanski (guitar)
Jamie MacDougall (tenor)
Gabriella Dall’Olio (harp)
Shakespeare Sinfonia
David Curtis (conductor)
Recorded 10-12 June 2018, St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb

In his latest solo album, Nuevo Mundo, guitarist Morgan Szymanski presents a selection of mostly new music, written for him by a group of composers with whom it is audibly apparent he has developed a natural rapport. Some of the composers will be familiar from Szymanski’s previous albums, namely Alec Roth, Simone Iannarelli, Julio César Oliva and Stephen McNeff, but here we are also introduced to Paul Coles. This adds to the diversity of writing styles which are juxtaposed effectively and suit the performer’s playing style and personality, contributing to a very well-rounded programme. One of the hallmarks of Szymanski’s albums (this being his 3rd solo album and 5th overall released on his Sarabande label), is the care and artistry that accompanies each release, and this album is no exception.

The album opens with music by the great Paraguayan, Agustín Barrios Mangoré. Whilst most of you will know the Vals Op. 8, No. 4 and Maxixe, they are played here with great affection and bewitching elegance, providing an attractive opener, with the familiar leading to the newer pieces, the first by Paul Coles. This composer has written some very interesting guitar music over the years, and treats us to a deliciously songful piece with his Fantasia Tropical. The music exudes a delicate Carribean charm, and when played with such lightness of touch and deft rhythmic inflections as it is here, it cannot help but bring a smile to your face.

In his previous album, Estampas de Mexico, Szymanski extensively explored the music of Julio César Oliva, and here we are treated to four Images of Mexico, written in the composer’s typical understated style. This is music that eschews overt nationalist gestures, having a stronger poetic and lyrical dimension, with something in common with Manuel Ponce. The music has a beguiling simplicity, to which Szymanski is perfectly attuned, allowing the music to flow naturally as it paints vivid images of Mexico following the passage of the sun. We visit Mexico City, the mountains of Tepoztlán, and the beaches of Ensenada and Los Cabos and if this is not clear enough for you I urge you to view Szymanski’s promotional video on his website (well worth viewing in any case).

This is followed by three titled pieces by Simone Iannerrelli, another composer who specialises in music for the guitar, for which he writes most effectively. The colouristic effects in three of the twelve pieces that make up his suite, Italian Coffee, are quite different to the preceding composers, though the style remains relaxed. These are piquant songs without words, played with disarming understatement. It’s a shame that not all real coffee tastes this good!

There is little doubt that the guitar music written by Alec Roth for Szymanski has been of a consistently high standard, with many notable achievements across the genres including solo, chamber, song and concerto. Alec Roth’s contribution to this album should not be judged by its length, as the figures leap across the strings in the delightful Mexican Jumping Bean for an event-packed 1’50. This was evidently a birthday present from the composer and it is a piece of musical fun which the dedicatee plays here with great relish.

The album ends with music by Stephen McNeff, which introduces some musical and alcoholic intoxication to this eventful album. It seems that when he last visited Mexico, the composer was introduced by a mutual friend to the custom of drinking tequila, sangrita and beer as a chaser. The lethal combination is also known as the Tres Angelitos Mexicanos but the effect is distilled into a virtuoso three-movement suite, each covering the three components. These are very well-written pieces for the guitar which have a wide range of dynamic and expressive effects delivered with humour and virtuosity by Szymanski, which will no doubt work well when played live.

Nuevo Mundo is another artistic triumph for Morgan Szymanski where he achieves a fine balance between spontaneity and attention to detail. The music selected is very enjoyable and it all adds up to a highly recommendable album.

During the first half of 2008 Morgan Szymanski will be involved in series of projects involving chamber music, concerti and solo recitals. January sees performances with the Saconni Quartet, performing Alec Roth’s Quintet for Guitar and Strings (especially written for the Saconni Quartet and Morgan Szymanski) as well as Simone Iannarelli’s Valzer Brillante (both recorded on Machaca – Mano a Mano) as well as works by Vivaldi, Giuliani and Boccerini.Other chamber music projects include a collaboration with the ODuo (Oliver Cox and Owen Gunnell) performing works by Ponce, Piazzolla, Bellinati and Lauro as well as the World Premiere of a new work especially written for the trio by Stephen McNeff. This work entitled ‘Los Ambulantes’ is inspired on the street vendors of Mexico City and will be premiered at the Wigmore Hall (10th of March). The trio will also be performing at St. George’s in Bristol. Other collaborations include recitals with Clara Andrada (flute), Gemma Rosefield (cello), Alison Balsom (trumpet), Ruth Rogers (violin), Laura Mitchell (soprano) and Mark Padmore (tenor).Morgan will be performing Joaquin Rodrigo’s ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at London’s Cadogan Hall (26th of February) and Fairfield Halls (7th June) and makes his debut with Southbank Sinfonia, (7th and 8th of March) and the Colne Philharmonic Orchestra (15th of March). April will see a series of solo recitals in Mexico as well as concerts with Machaca for the Festival de México en el Centro Histórico and the Anglo-Mexican Foundation (13th, 15th and 17th of April), whilst May sees a return visit to Zimbabwe, with concerts in Harare and the Bulawayo Festival.

This autumn Morgan Szymanski will be performing Joaquin Rodrigo’s ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (14th of November, Wolverhampton), the Hallé (17th of November, Manchester) and the Orchestra of the Swan (17th of October, Stratford-on-Avon; 19th of October, Bedworth; 21st of October, Birmingham).

He will also be performing at the London International Guitar Festival in a tribute to Venezuelan composer Antonio Lauro (10th of October) and a tribute to Andrés Segovia with Carlos Bonell (24th of October) at London’s Bolivar Hall.

Chamber music projects include two concerts with the ODuo (11th of September, Rye Festival; 18th of October, Stratford-on-Avon) and a duo recital with violinist Ruth Rogers (30th of November, London). Morgan will also be taking part in a new recording of the works of Alec Roth. Solo recital dates include concerts in Loughborough, Rye, Hertfordshire, and Bracknell.

For further information please consult the concert diary.

Machaca – Mano a Mano

“This young virtuoso is that rare thing among guitarists: a fine chamber player?

Morgan Szymanski’s second disc features the young Mexican-born guitarist’s ensemble Machaca playing chamber music for guitar and various instruments, from Manuel M. Ponce’s Preludio for guitar and harpsichord to the final work, Alec Roth’s Quintet for guitar and strings (here receiving its first recording). Throughout, there’s a real freshness and sparkle to the playing that perfectly complements the light, attractive nature of the music. After Ponce’s curious Baroque evocation comes a darker shading in the form of three movements from Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango. Here, a violin takes the original flute part in the outer movements while the accordion offsets Szymanski’s sweet, fully rounded tone for the middle. Perhaps not quite as successful are the four pieces originally for solo guitar, which seem overburdened by the addition of a vocalist and/or percussion. No such reservations with Ponce’s Estrellita (arranged for cello and guitar) or Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas brasileiras No 5.

Simone Iannarelli’s Valzer Brillante for guitar and string quartet sees Szymanski and the Sacconi Quartet exhibit the same superb ensemble to be found in the Roth. The latter composer’s eclecticism and willingness continually to subvert expectations (the Prelude is especially effective in this respect) inspire the performers to seize collectively on the blues-based elements and inject a relaxed, improvisatory feel into the whole.

Minor reservations aside, “Mano a Mano? is a real jewel of a disc, with Szymanski demonstrating that he’s not only a soloist of formidable talent but also that rare thing among guitarists: a fine chamber musician.

William Yeoman

This year Morgan Szymanski makes his debut with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing Joaquin Rodrigo’s ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ in May, as well as the launch of his new CD, Machaca – Mano a Mano, in the Purcell Room in London’s South Bank during London’s Latin American Music Festival ‘La Linea’ 2007.

Other exciting projects include the performance of Alec Roth’s ‘Quintet for Guitar and Strings’ with the Sacconi Quartet at the Bangor New Music Festival as well as concerto’s with the Hallam Sinfonia in Sheffield, the Charities Philharmonia in London’s St. John’s Smith Square and the Tunbridge Wells Symphony Orchestra.

Solo recitals include London’s Blackheath Halls, the Hollywell Rooms in Oxford and festivals in France, Mexico and the UK.

Chamber music projects include work with Machaca, Ruth Rogers, Gemma Rosefield, Laura Mitchell, Phuong Nguyen and the ODuo amongst others as well as duo recitals with his former teacher, Carlos Bonell.

Mitchell / Szymanski

Coach House, Dublin Castle.

Martin Adams.
Irish Times 4/11/06.

Soprano Laura Mitchell and guitarist Morgan Szymanski are on a 7-venue Music Network Tour. Their programme of music from Spain and South America consists of original compositions inspired by folk music, of folk-song arrangements, and of guitar solos, all composed within the last 120 years.

Such an intimate programme is highly dependent on the performers having a sure aim towards the music and the audience. They have it.
Laura Mitchell’s clarity and ease of tone are ideal for music such as Rodrigo’s Three Spanish Songs, and the simple-yet-arty folk-song style of Ponce’s Three Mexican Songs. Her minute subtleties of expression, inflections of words, and bending of pitch and rhythm are the mark of a singer who knows that music of this kind cannot be over stated, and who can draw on a wealth of musicianship and technique to say the tiniest thing without fuss.

Morgan Szymanski’s guitar playing is amongst the best I have heard in a long time. In two Tangos by Piazzolla and in Tarrega’s demanding guitar arrangements of Sevilla and Cadiz from Albeniz’s Suite Espanola for piano, this Mexican-born musician’s flexible rhythmic energy and command of colour indicated a superb sense of style.

The Jota from De Falla’s Seven Spanish Folk Songs is well known in its version for full orchestra. But in this highly coloured performance from just two musicians, one forgot all about that. Mitchell and Szymanski seemed to know one another’s music as intimately as their own. They did not need to impress the audience, just to draw them in. And they did it in style, ending not with a bang, but with a rarified evocation-Villa-Lobos’ own arrangement of his Bachianas Brazileiras No.5, with the eight cellos impeccably reduced down to one guitar.

1st-10th Tour of Ireland with Soprano Laura Mitchell.  

Wednesday 1st:  St John’s Arts Centre, Co Kerry.

Promoter: Irish Music Network. Programme to include music by Falla, Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, Ponce, Brouwer and Lauro.  

Thursday 2nd: The Coach House, Dublin Castle.

Promoter: Irish Music Network. Programme to include music by Falla, Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, Ponce, Brouwer and Lauro.  

Friday 3rd: Courthouse Arts Centre, Tinahely.

Promoter: Irish Music Network. Programme to include music by Falla, Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, Ponce, Brouwer and Lauro.    

Saturday 4th: Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray.

Promoter: Irish Music Network. Programme to include music by Falla, Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, Ponce, Brouwer and Lauro.    

Monday 6th: Church of Ireland, Clifden Galway.

Promoter: Irish Music Network. Programme to include music by Falla, Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, Ponce, Brouwer and Lauro.    

Tuesday 7th: Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar.

Promoter: Irish Music Network. Programme to include music by Falla, Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, Ponce, Brouwer and Lauro.    

Wednesday 8th: St. Mary’s Church, Navan.

Promoter: Irish Music Network. Programme to include music by Falla, Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, Ponce, Brouwer and Lauro.    

Thursday 9th: St. Michael’s Theatre, New Ross.

Promoter: Irish Music Network.

Programme to include music by Falla, Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, Ponce, Brouwer and Lauro.    

Saturday 18th: Concerto with the Basingstoke SO, The Anvil, Basingstoke.

Morgan Szymanski – Guitar
Promoter: Young Concert Artists Trust; Basingstoke Symphony Orchestra.
Joaquin Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez  

Saturday 25th: Concerto with the Ealing Symphony Orchestra.

Morgan Szymanski – Guitar
Promoter: Young Concert Artists Trust; Ealing Symphony Orchestra.
Joaquin Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez

Monday 9th: Duo Concert with Olly Cox (ODuo). Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury.

Morgan Szymanski – Guitar, Olly Cox– Percussion.

Promoter: University of Kent.
Programme to include music by JS Bach, Machado, Brouwer, Lauro and Bellinati.  

Saturday 14th: Solo recital, Little Missenden Festival.

Programme to include music by Giuliani, Iannarelli, Barrios, Piazzolla, Tarrega and Albeniz.  

Monday 16th: Solo Recital, Stratford Festival, Shakespeare House.

Programme to include music by Giuliani, Iannarelli, Barrios, Piazzolla, Tarrega and Albeniz.  

Saturday 21st: Concert with ODuo at Marianischersaal in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Promoter: Ursula Jones Programme to include music by Bellinati, Piazzolla, Lauro, Brouwer and Machado.  

Sunday 22nd: Concert with ODuo at Music School in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Promoter: Ursula Jones Programme to include music by Bellinati, Piazzolla, Lauro, Brouwer and Machado.  

Monday 23rd: Yellow Lounge Evening at the Casineum in Lucerne with ODuo. Gesellschaft fur Kammermusik Marianischer Saal

Promoter: Ursula Jones Programme to include music by Bellinati, Piazzolla, Lauro, Brouwer and Machado.  

Tuesday 24th: Concert with ODuo in Aarau, Switzerland.

Promoter: Ursula Jones Programme to include music by Bellinati, Piazzolla, Lauro, Brouwer and Machado.  

1st- 24th: Tour of Mexico.

Wednesday 6th: Duo Concert with Guatemalan guitarist Jose Augusto Mejia. Programme to include music by Falla, Ponce, Carulli, Machado, Barrios and others. Embassy of Guatemala, Mexico City.

Friday 8th: Solo recital- UNAM Guitar Festival, Escuela Nacional de Música, Coyoacan, Mexico City.

Saturday 9th: Solo Recital – Auditorio Manuel M. Ponce Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City.

11th-17th: Concerts in Taxco, Chilpancingo and Acapulco (dates to be confirmed).

18th – 22nd: Concerts in Colima and Valle de Bravo (dates to be confirmed).
Sunday 24th: Concert in Zacatecas, Auditorio del Museo de Arte Abstracto “Manuel Felguérez?, 12pm.