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.

By RAY PICOT
If I wanted to recommend one album of guitar music that showed the artist in total harmony with his material, it would be Morgan Szymanski’s Sketches of Mexico. Of course I am biased – I have the benefit of knowing this wonderful album since its release in 2012 and the following year interviewed the artist over its conception and development – but the wonderful praise garnered from his piers and critics would suggest that I am not alone.

Whilst Szymanski claims to have accidentally discovered Julio Cesar Oliva’s 20 Sketches of Mexico some time after they were published, it is evident from listening to the album that he found common ground with the composer’s source of inspiration – i.e. places, towns and locations in Mexico. The pieces were written with a didactic purpose, to introduce to young guitarists the manifold rhythms, dances and styles of Mexican music. They were also laid out in order of technical difficulty, but these are not technical studies in the conventional sense, and unlike most of Oliva’s works they are not written for public performance (and probably not envisaged as album material), but therein lies the cleverness of Szymanski’s response to the 20 pieces. He knows the music and he understands the relationship between different movements and the individual locations that inspired them (e.g. Jaranas, Teotihuacan) and then reorders them into a satisfying suite that takes you on a musical journey. Now the original intention has become subsumed to a broader artistic concept to which these delightful vignettes are perfectly attuned. The music flows perfectly from one piece to another with a sense of sureness that only an artist of Szymanski’s calibre could achieve. Undoubtedly there are technical difficulties but you are not aware of his technical prowess, just his musical virtuosity as he teases out the pieces’ underlying subtleties.

Realising the composer’s extra-musical inspiration of the individual pieces Szymanski provides an instant tourists’ guide with a collection of original artworks reprinted in the album booklet, accompanied by a short written description. These are pleasurable in their own right but married to the music, they really help the artist to convey a wider imaginative concept. One can only note an album like this would be enhanced as a gatefold LP record with a full size booklet! But Szymanski goes one better, and it is at this point I urge you to locate the concert videos on Youtube which show how Morgan took the concept on the road, where he enlivens the project through an enhanced collection of projections.

However, one has to consider the musical material in its own right and there is no doubt it is very approachable and often understated, but with enough incident and melodic charm, to maintain interest. Szymanski also realises that this collection would work well alongside another suite, and noting (like his own) Oliva’s empathy to the music of Manuel Ponce (see Oliva’s delightful suite, Ponciana for guitar quartet, released by Urtext), he creates an original collection entitled Six Mexican Songs, where he marries Ponce’s Three Mexican Songs, which the composer arranged for his friend Segovia, and adds three more by Ponce. These Szymanski arranges perfectly for guitar and includes the ever-popular Estrellita which shines anew under his subtle touch. Szymanski’s re-imagining of the otherwise pianistic Scherzino mexicano is utterly beguiling.

To conclude, this is an album by a musician on top of his form and for whom only the highest of standards are good enough. I look forward with keen anticipation to his next project, which I understand should be later this year.

Sarabande Records SARACD004

This is not so much a recording of a top guitar soloist presenting music from his native Mexico, it is more of a collaboration between Morgan Szymanski and twenty visual artists of various nationalities , whose works are shown on every other page in the highly colourful and informative accompanying 48-page booklet (all the illustrations are for sale from the record company´s website).

I had the pleasure of reviewing Julio César Oliva´s excellent collection ´Veinte Estampas de México´, nearly ten years ago, and wondered at the time when this piece would get recorded in it´s entirety; well here it is receiving it´s premiere recording and being presented by one of the guitar world´s foremost players who is obviously at home interpreting music from his homeland. The twenty ´movements´are all named after towns, cities or areas in Mexico and cover a variety of styles many illustrating the traditional rhythmic and musical diversity contained in that part of the world.

The programme concludes in fine style with six of Manuel Ponce´s highly melodic compositions all immaculately played and superbly phrased. A very entertaining and enthralling new release from an excellent musician.

Recommended.

 

Morgan Szymanski (guitar) and Harriet Mackenzie (violin) at the London Classical Guitar Festival, Bolivar Hall, 13th of September 2011. Reviewed by Thérèse Wassily Saba.

The Mexican guitarist Morgan Szymanski who lives in London gave a rectal with the British violinist Harriet Mackenzie to open the fourth edition of the London Classical Guitar Festival, which is organised annually by ILAMS (the Iberian and Latin American Music Society). Their programme included arrangements of folk songs such as Estrellita by Manuel M.Ponce arranged for guitar and violin by Morgan Szymanski, Romanian Folk Dances by Bela Bartók and Spanish Folk Songs by Manuel de Falla. Harriet Mackenzie announced that she had heard the original field recordings which Bela Bartók had collected in 1915 and one could hear this in her bowing style, her use of glissandi, the phrasing and beautifully played melodic lines in the Romanian Five Folk Songs: Joc cu bata, Braul, Buciumeana, Poarca Romaneasca, and with a powerful and focused performance of the very rhythmic Maruntel.

Each of the performers played solos: Morgan Szymanski gave a very good performance of the tremolo piece Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios by Agustín Barrios Mangoré and Harriet Mackenzie gave a soothing performance of the Andante from Sonata in A minor BWV1003 by J.S. Bach as a violin solo.

Paganini was famous for writing violin and guitar duets with a virtuosic part for the violin and a very plain and simple part for the guitarist. The exception to this is Paganini’s three-movement Sonata Concertata in A Major Op.61 (1804) which has technically balanced parts for violin and guitar; Morgan Szymanski played his own small cadenzas in there as well.  They finished the concert with two movements from Astor Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango, building slowly to a fortissimo and with an excellent feel for the syncopations in the rhythm.

Those of you who recall the dramatic robbery of Morgan Szymanski’s (and Craig Ogden’s) guitars, under the pretence of each of them playing at a funeral in a central London church – different churches but on the same day – may be wondering what Morgan Szymanski is paying at the moment. He is now performing on a guitar by the Chinese guitar maker, Yulong Guo, which fared very well alongside Harriet Mackenzie’s historic instrument.

Morgan Szymanski and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields by Thérèse Wassily Saba.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields was founded in 1958 by Sir Neville Marriner; it is a chamber orchestra with a long history of working with guitarists. On this occasion there was no conductor and the lead violinist, Kenneth Sillito, took on the role of leading/conducting the orchestra of 17 instrumentalists. They began with the Holberg Suite Op.40  by Grieg. The sound they produced was rich and filled the Wigmore Hall. Their dynamics were carefully planned and the contrasts between piano and forte dynamics were very clear.

The Mexican guitarist Morgan Szymanski joined the Academy for the Guitar Concerto RV93 in D major by Vivaldi. Positioned in the centre of the ensemble and although he played without any amplification, I could still hear his guitar and the changes of timbres at the back of the hall, in this solidly good performance of the work.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields performed the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9 by Villa-Lobos. The work was completed in 1945 and exists in two versions: one for choir, singing without words, and in the version we heard here for chamber ensemble (no guitar, of course). The work builds very dramatically into what Villa-Lobos described as ‘the suggestion of a large organ’.

The Concerto for Guitar and String Orchestra by the Irish/German composer Alec Roth was written for Morgan Szymanski. The orchestration was very attractive; Alec Roth used the resources of the guitar and string ensemble very well to create attractive sound colours, such as his use of pizzicato strings against strummed chords on the guitar. There is an effective and beautiful tremolo section later. One could hear the pleasure of the composer in creating these sounds. The Concerto had a distinctly individual nature and did not sound like anyone else’s composition.

The Concerto starts with the guitar playing solo in harmonics, followed by an ettouffe ostinato passage, which acts as an introduction for the string orchestra. The ostinato on the guitar continues but with a building up of ideas and thus the music is immediately engaging and easy to follow. The catchy rhythm of the first movement, March, added to this accessibility. The Serenade second movement has a more relaxed and romantic character, with gentle and soothing harmony, ending dramatically with the strings using contemporary playing techniques, such as creating the sounds of noisy seagulls by squeaking up and down their fingerboards with their bows. The Nocturne third movement has two distinctive characters: the gentle lullaby contrasted with the more frightening fears that come upon us in the dark. The final movement called Fiesta is as lively as its title suggests and ends with a very positive feel.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Morgan Szymanski have been touring with the Concerto for Guitar and String Orchestra by Alec Roth since October 2010. This was its London première.

Machaca – Los Ambulantes

Morgan Szymanski (Guitar) Sarabande Records – SARACD003

‘Machaca’ is an ensemble of guitar, violin, cello, accordion, percussion, bass, flute and cuatro and is the name of an international ensemble of high-class musicians put together by Mexican-born guitarist Morgan Szymanski in 2006. Los Ambulantes is the second album made under this group name although the personnel for this one differs from the first album with the exception of the cellist and the accordionist. Apart from a work by the Italian guitarist Simone Iannarelli and one from Welsh composer Stephen McNeff, the programme consists of music from South America.

As with their first release, the track listing features many well-known musical works presented in a new manner due to the addition of other instrumentation.  Hence the three celebrated solo guitar pieces by Venezuelan guitarist Antonio Lauro are heard with an up-tempo beat with the guitarist backed by cuatro and percussion and also Celso Machado’s wonderful Bolinhas de Queijo given a cool-jazz interpretation a la ‘MJQ’ style.

Of particular interest is the longest item on the programme, the title track Los Ambulantes here given its world premiere recording. This is a terrific piece written in a contemporary jazz mode and a work which uses the group to their full potential. It is a work of multiple musical layers and density travelling through a variety of moods and holds the attention for its full eleven minutes.

The disc is well recorded and performed with style from a seemingly very enthusiastic ensemble.

Steve Marsh, Classical Guitar Magazine April 2011.

Machaca – Mano a Mano

Morgan Szymanski (Guitar) Sarabande Records – SARACD001

This is subtitled as ‘Chamber Music for Guitar’ and for this Morgan Szymanski is joined by an array of other musicians performing on harpsichord, violin, percussion, accordion and cuatro plus two female vocalists.

The programme falls roughly into two broadly defined camps, one, of works where the composer’s instrumental intentions are more or less followed (ie. the Piazzolla and Ponce compositions) and the second where the music has additional instrumentation added such as in the Lauro Vals Criollo (cuatro/percussion/lyrics) and Brouwer’s Danza Caracterísitica and Canción de Cuna(respectively, percussion and vocal/percussion).
Of special interest is the word-premiere recording of British composer Alec Roth’s four movement composition for guitar and strings where Morgan Szymanski joins forces with the Sacconi Quartet. The Quintet is a lyrical and intense piece with many and varied rhythms: a multiplicity of moods are covered from sombre and morbid ones through to euphoria and exhilaration and with several twists and turns along the way. Altogether this is an excellent new work for the repertoire and hopefully one which will make many appearances on the concert platform.

All the musicians involved in this interesting project give superb performances and the recorded sound is outstanding. The programme is wide-ranging and colourful, interleaving the known with the less well-known. The Roth piece alone makes this such an attractive purchase.

Steve Marsh – Classical Guitar Magazine, April 2011.

Bob Smissen / Devon / Kenneth Sillito / Morgan Szymanski / Philip R Buttall / Stephen Orton / Totnes

It would be so easy to think that a world-renowned ensemble, touring the same programme around the country, and one which, though absolutely charming, is perhaps not excessively stressful, might occasionally switch into automatic mode.

Not so the strings of St Martin in the Fields. From their body language and interaction, it was so obvious from the very first note, that each player was still really enjoying making music, and the resulting sound, enhanced by the glorious acoustic, was simply breathtaking throughout.

Yes they can command all the best players around, with such immense strengths as violist, Bob Smissen, and the rich fruity tone of cellist, Stephen Orton.

In director, Kenneth Sillito, they could simply find no better, both in his wonderfully expressive playing, and assured, yet so persuasively unassuming leadership.

And, with such eminent crowd pleasers as Grieg’s Holberg Suite, a Villa Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras, the delicious E flat Serenade by Joseph Suk, and Morgan Szymanski’s delicately-crafted reading of Vivaldi’s D major Guitar Concerto, this was always going to be a concert to die for.

But the specially-commissioned Guitar Concerto by Alec Roth eventually stole the show, for here was a brand new contemporary work which was not only perfectly formed, but was such a delight to hear – if only all of today’s so-called composers would show such consideration, and respect for their listeners’ intellect.

PHILIP R BUTTALL

www.southwestshows.co.uk

New Faces: Morgan Szymanski
A superb classical guitarist who started out playing everything.

By Ivan Hewett
 Published: 1:00PM BST 29 Jul 2010

Who is he?

A superb classical guitarist, just turned 30, who leads his own chamber group, Machaca, and has played everywhere from the Wigmore Hall to Beijing.
With a name like that he must have an interestingly mixed background.
Yes, but not the one you might imagine. His father is Mexican and his mother is Scottish.

Does this show in his music?
The Mexican part certainly does. “A lot of my musical influences are Latin-American. I used to listen to traditional and folk guitar a lot. In Mexico, folk music is still firmly in people’s ears, and it’s also there in the classical music I play by Mexican composers, such as Chavez and Ponce.?

Did he start out as a folk guitarist?
He started out playing everything – pop, folk and classical. “But my mum was very clever. She said I could play my electric guitar only after I had played my classical pieces first. I owe a lot to my mum: she sent me to the National Music School in Mexico.

Who inspired him in those days?
The great Andrés Segovia above all, because “he was the one who really put the guitar on the map. Before him, it hardly existed as a solo instrument. But I also listened a lot to Julian Bream and John Williams. As a kid in Mexico, I never imagined I would one day play duets with John Williams at the Wigmore Hall.?

How did he end up in London?
Through a route that led first to the Edinburgh Music School (“because it had a very good pop course alongside the classical course?) and then to the Royal College of Music in London.

The guitar’s repertoire is pretty limited. Isn’t that a problem?
“The guitar is a young instrument in the classical world, so it’s important for players to get composers interested in writing pieces for us.?

Will he stay in the UK?
“London is a wonderful place musically, but I can’t stand the winters. One day I would like to settle in Mexico.?
Morgan Szymanski tours with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields in September. His new album, ‘Los Ambulantes’, with the ensemble Machaca is on the Sarabande label.

Great guitarist’s set shone

South Wales Evening Post, Jul 23, 2010

Morgan Szymanski (guitar), St Mary’s Church, Pennard, Gower Festival IN a week dominated by oppressive clouds and heavy downpours, the outstandingly talented classical guitarist Morgan Szymanski brought Latin American sunshine to the Gower Festival. Music by Guiliani and Barrios set the cheery mood, taken forward con brio with four Venezuelan waltzes by Lauro.

The vogue for Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla continues unabated, and he was represented here by two pieces: Primavera Portena and La Muerte Del Angel. Further works by Iannarelli (born in Italy but now living in Mexico) and the Brazilian guitarist Paulo Bellinati completed a breathtaking tour of South American music.

Szymanski turned with equal sensitivity and verve to the British composer Alec Roth. Four delightful movements — together entitled Cat Dances — brought smiles both to guitarist and audience alike. Finally, the sublime Recuerdos De La Alhambra by Tarrega was the perfect encore and, unable to resist Szymanski’s infectious joy, the rain cleared.