Classical Guitar Magazine – Review
Morgan Szymanski and Machaca – Purcell Room, South Bank Centre. Thérèse Wassily Saba.

27th April 2010 ‘Los Ambulantes’ CD launch.

In this very vibrant and visually exciting concert, the Mexican classical guitarist Morgan Szymanski was mostly performing in various ensemble formations with the members of his ensemble called Machaca, as well as some guest artists. The Machaca ensemble includes Morgan Szymanski on guitar, the ODuo on percussion, marimba and vibraphone – a percussion duo with Owen Gunnell and Oliver Cox, who were both students at the Royal College of Music, Lizzie Ball on violin and voice, Gemma Rosefield on cello, Al Mobbs on double bass, Phuong Nguyen on accordion, the flautist Adam Walker and special guest Galo Cerón on guitar and cuatro.

Adam Walker and Morgan Szymanski gave a fine performanceof Villa-Lobos’s Distribuicao de Flores and Gemma Rosefield’s cello playing had a beautiful tone quality and was full of feeling in the Bachianas Brazileiras No. 5 which she performed with Morgan Szymanski.
Machaca played some excellent Piazzolla, including his Libertango and two of Piazzollas pieces which have been arranged by Sergio Assad: Fuga y Misterio and Escualo. The combination of instruments in the arrangement, which included the marimba, was very rich and the ensemble was close and exciting. Four of Antonio Lauro’s waltzes were played on guitar, cuatro, bass and percussion, which also worked very well.  The rhythmic and timbral additions by the ODuo, who seemed to leap from one instrument to another within pieces, really added to these pieces. Equally so in Celso Machado’s pieces from Imagens do Nordeste.

The concert featured the première of Los Ambulantes by Stephen McNeff, which was especially written for the full ensemble. Los Ambulantes is the name of the Mexican street vendors, who walk around selling packets of chewing gum, tissues and other small items. The piece is modern and Morgan Szymanski says it ‘describes the chaos of Mexico City’, so you can imagine the sounds that are found in this work, which also features the whistles which los ambulantes blow as they walk the streets.  The ‘chaos’ does die down towards the end of the piece, when we are left with eerie night sounds and a calm zone before the next drama.

Another première in this concert was James Pearson’s Zacapu also written for Machaca. This had a more classical-based style, which referenced more popular music such as French chanson with the sounds of the accordion. Al Mobbs had a short passage of belly-growling on his double bass which added some humour to the composition as well. The concert ended with a further première of Stephen McNeff’s Inevitable End of the Affair, a beautifully light piece of writing with a Latin feel, which one could float home with after the concert, happily humming.

This concert which was part of ‘La Linea 2010’ Latin Music Festival celebrated the launch of Machaca’s latest recording which takes it’s title from McNeff’s piece called Los Ambulantes.  Machaca’s first album, Mano a mano, was released during La Linea 2007.

Machaca is the brainchild of 30-year-old Mexican guitarist Morgan Szymanski. Machaca’s take on contemporary South American work, from Brazil’s Villa Lobos to Argentina’s Piazzolla, with lesser knowns such as Venezuela’s Antonio Lauro, breaks moulds for agility of play and the airy quality of their music, which darts deep while remaining subtle and delicate.

The octet includes Edinburgh’s own Chilean guitarist Galo Cerón. Watch this space, as with a mother from Ayr and counting groundbreaking musicians in his family, Szymanski has inspired vision. Title track ‘Los Ambulantes’ is a highlight, full of textures and timbres, pings, rings and evocative effects.

Guitarist Szymanski charms the audience at sell-out show

Review by Stephen Crawford

Morgan Szymanksi put on an impressive show as part of the Bermuda Festival at City Hall

There was a full house at City Hall on a stormy Saturday night eager to hear guitarist Morgan Szymanski’s programme. Born in Mexico City, Morgan studied at the Royal College of Music and the Conservatorium Van Amsterdam where he was prize winner in many major competitions. He is now making a name for himself as an international solo ensemble/chamber artist.

The first half of the evening was devoted mainly to music written in the romantic style; the second, music by modern composers.
The first offering was Giuliani’s ‘Grand Overture’, one of those pieces that has all the grace, elegance and charm of the period. From the start Szymanski’s interpretation was played with control, shaping the phrasing clearly, using a wide dynamic contrast and also giving the work plenty of tonal colour. Following this Four Venezuelan valses by Lauro, were all named after various family members. Szymanski gave a stylish playing of these works, always bringing out the changes in the rhythm with its hemiola patterns which are ubiquitous in Lauro’s compositions.

Next we heard three pieces by the famous Paraguayan, Agustin Barrios Mangore a wonderful romantic composer whose works span the first half of the 20th century. Waltz in D major paying hommage to Chopin. This is a lyrical piece with its dark brooding middle section followed by a beautifully extended campanella (bell like arpeggio section) before taking us back to the recapitulation. Una Limosna por el Amor De Dios (An Alm for the Love of God) is a striking tremolo work in the dark key of E minor modulating to the bright parallel key of E major. Throughout this work there was a clear seamless tapestry of sound coming from Mr. Szymanski’s guitar. The Maxixie is a South American dance similar to the Tango. This had a whimsical dance like character which I really enjoyed, as was evident seeing some of the audience moving to the pulse of the music.

The first half ended with Szymanski’s wonderful transcription of the highly evocative Preludio (Asturias) from Albeniz’ Suite Espanola. The whirling outer Toccata Sections began very quiet, giving out great power of sound in the crescendos which complemented the lovely piano Arabesque like middle section and coda.

The second half of the concert was dedicated to music by living composers. Alex Roth’s Unicorn in the Garden was especially written for Szymanski. This music had a hypnotic feel to it, tremolo passages mixed with quasi harps, languid octave harmonics and arpeggios all used to good effect. Some of the passages in this piece reminding me of Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal. For me Szymanski’s tone was warm and radiant throughout.

Simone Iannarelli’s pieces inspired by coffee were very enjoyable and I would love to hear them again soon, as they were new to me. Next up was Brower’s Cuban landscapes with bells, again this piece using all the colours and effects the guitar has to offer, even though it’s not one of my favorites. Brower is highly regarded as one of greatest modern guitar composers.

Bringing the evening to a conclusion was the ever popular Jongo by Brazilian composer Paulo Bellinati. Jongo is based on the Afro-Brazilian style, which opens with a strong melodic bass line over some very interesting chord changes until the guitar picks up as a solo percussion instrument.
Szymanski using every part of the guitar’s body and neck brought the evening to its climax. After rapturous applause we were treated to one encore Tarrega’s evocative Recuerdos de la Alhambra. Thank you Bermuda Festival for bringing such a wonderful artist to the shores of Bermuda.

Reviewed in www.classical-guitar-news.co.uk

Morgan Szymanski: featured artist. Double CD review.

The Unicorn In The Garden

It’s apt that “The Unicorn in The Garden? should feature a highly artistic and engaging CD covering, clearly reflecting Morgan Szymanski’s artistic capabilities and creativities as a classical guitarist of the highest order.  Released in 2005, this recording features both a of range works specially composed for Morgan Szymanski as well as pieces from more familiar composers for classical guitar.  
Coupled with Szymanski’s technical mastery and musicianship, his clever piece selection makes for a winning combination. 

As a listener you’ll find yourself fully engaged from the start of the first track to the end of the last.  This recording culminates in just under an hours worth of during which time Szymanski will have taken you through a selection of works by well as works by Manuel M. Ponce, Agustin Barrios Mangoré as well as more recent composers, Alec Roth, Simone Iannarelli and Jorge Ritter.

The recording opens with the piece bearing the title of the recording, The Unicorn in the Garden, where the listener is immediately taken into the mysterious and mythical world of the Unicorn through the flurry of harmonics, ringing out from Morgan’s made by the Italian luthier, Luciano Lovadina.  Composed by Alec Roth, this release also later features a delightful set of pieces by the same composer entitled “Cat Dances?. Morgan uses an impressive range of guitar techniques, from glissando to artificial harmonics to really bring the distinct character traits of each to life.

The works of Morgan’s fellow countryman, Manuel Ponce are likely to be of greater familiarity to most.  Whilst written in the first half of the 20th Century, Ponce’s Suite in A minor was a deliberate attempt on Ponce’s part to emulate the style of a JS Bach Suite. The fact that the suite was composed at Segovia’s request in order to play a joke on a baroque-loving and legendary violinist fellow Fritz Kreisler must have been well executed and well received. Morgan’s qualities not just as a guitarist but as a classical musician really shine in this area, his approach revealing the intricacy of the counterpoint and clear separation of voices throughout the Suite.

JS Bach also provides an interesting link to the composer of the next piece the legendary Paraguayan guitar composer, Augustín, Barrios Mangoré, himself inspired by the works of Bach.  This disc features a perennial guitarist favourite, Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios,  the last major piece composed by Mangoré before his death. Morgan’s interpretation is a fitting tribute to this fine player and composer. The persistent and clearly executed tremolo throughout really captures the scene of a frail and pleading beggar holding out a faltering hand to secure donations from passers-by, as the composer had intended.

From Barrios, the recording moves on to two highly engaging pieces by the Italian composer Simone Iannarelli.  The first is an entertaining and delightful waltz (subtitled a Homage to Barrios) and is followed by a Cancion para Beatriz, (Song for Beatriz), where the influences of Barrios and other lyrical style composers such as Miguel Llobet are readily identifiable in the piece. Both pieces make for enjoyable listening and are again expertly performed by the player. 

Jorge Ritter’s Theme, 6 variations and Finale entitled Varaciones Capoeira bring this release to a fitting close and highlight Morgan’s versatility and excellent musicianship in presented a range of styles and musical influences. 

A highly recommended release from all of us at Classical Guitar News!

Buy it online…

Mano a Mano

Recorded at the Bolivar Hall in 2006, this release underlines both the versatility of Morgan Szymanski musicianship together with the ability of classical guitar as an instrument. Aptly entitled “Mano a Mano”, literally translated as “Hand in Hand”, the recording features a selection of broadly termed “Latin American” pieces comprising of classical guitar and range of more and less familiar instrumental combinations with harpsichord, percussion and accordion featuring alongside, voice, cuatro and cello.

Meanwhile, Machaca refers to the international ensemble formed by Morgan Szymanski in 2006, in this their first recording, ‘Mano a Mano’ launched at the Purcell Room in London’s South Bank.

The recording opens with a rarely heard Manuel Ponce’s Prelude for Harpsichord & Guitar in which Szymanski is joined by Jose Menor on the harpsichord to create a highly effective balance of voicing across the two very tonally different instruments. This is follwed by a series of three more familiar compositions by the Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla, the first of which, Bordel 1900, bringing together guitar and Violin (played by Ruth Rogers) to stunning effect. The late night ambiance of a Parisian Cafe is similarly brought vividly to live in the second Piazzolla piece, Café 1930, as Morgan’s guitar is joined by the Vietnamese Accordion player, Phoung Nguyen. Piazzolla is rounded off by a return to the familiar pairing of guitar and violin in Nightclub 1960.

It’s then the turn of Venezuelan composer Antonio Lauro, with the popular guitar Vals Criollo (Natalia) set to an instrumental arrangement of guitar, voice, cuatro and percussion.

The waltz theme is continued in the highly engaging Valzer Brilliante composed by the Italian composer, Simone Iannarelli, for which Szymanski is joined by the Sacconi Quartet before two well-known works by the Cuban composer and guitarist, Leo Brouwer; Danza Característica and Canción de Cuna (Lullaby). In both instances the percussive elements of the guitar are really brought to the fore by Szymanski, as guitar combines with percussion and voice in the case of Canción, where, Soprano, Laura Mitchell makes a guest appearance.

Manuel Ponce is again represented here, but this time in the form of Estrellita played by Szymanski and cellist Gemma Rosefield. Paulo Bellinati features next as guitar and percussion combine in a powerful rendition of the perennial guitarist favourite Jongo, featuring some amazing percussive effects on both instrumental areas.

No South American themed collection would be complete with a work or two by the Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa Lobos. In this instance it’s Bachianas Brazilieras No 5 (Aria), sung by Laura Mitchell, again showing what an emotive and effective musical blend of voice and guitar can be. The recording concludes with a series of pieces composed by the English composer Alec Roth, bringing together Szymanski’s excellent guitar with the excellent string technique and musicianship of the Sacconi string Quartet.

Morgan Szymanski and ODuo
Guitar & Percussion, Lakeside Arts Centre
Friday, February 20, 2009

THIS was an exhilarating evening of mainly Latin-American sounds.
Morgan Szymanski, a fine Mexican classical guitarist, and percussionists Oliver Cox and Owen Gunnell were first brought together by chance.

Booked for the same concert, they capped it with the arrangement of a Brazilian guitar piece that also crowned last night’s show.
Yesterday they also combined in a unique work by Britain’s Stephen McNeff.

In depicting the animation of Mexican street vendors, Los Ambulantes offset and balanced contrasting instruments with a sure touch.

O Duo opened with a theatrical piece of their own, Bongo Fury. This had them beating drum rhythms of great intricacy, even duelling with their sticks at one point.

Besides partnering the exquisite guitar, two marimbas dazzled in transcriptions from Bach’s French Suite in G and Chopin’s Etude in C sharp minor.

The second half featured Astor Piazzolla tangos as well as Paraguayan guitarist Agustin Barrios’s poignant swan-song. And O Duo needed all their stupendous precision and flair in Minoru Miki’s epic Marimba Spiritual.

PETER PALMER

Morgan masters variety of guitar styles
David Lucas, Basingstoke Gazette 29-01-09

Trinity Methodist Church was the ideal venue for this impressive and varied rectal.

It’s good acoustics and modest size enabled the audience to concentrate on every note of the programme, given by one of today’s most accomplished guitarists.

Mexican-born Morgan Szymanski, who studied in London and Amsterdam and has won major international competitions, demonstrated the classical guitar’s full potential.

The concert’s first half concentrated on a traditional repertoire of pieces by Giuliani, Mangoré, Lauro and Albéniz.

Giuliani’s Grand Overture was a piece of it’s time, with echoes of the style of Mozart and Haydn, and three works by Mangoré provided a contrast both with the previous piece and within themselves.

Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios was the last piece written by the guitar virtuoso, and it highlighted the tremolo playing over a melody which is such a feature of the instrument’s technique, and which Morgan exhibited with great delicacy of phrasing and dynamics.

Lauro’s Four Waltzes displayed simplicity of musical language, with exquisite gradations of tone. Originally written for piano, the guitar version of Albéniz’s Asturias was dramatic, even depicting, by tonal contrasts, an earthquake on the generally soft-spoken guitar.

Morgan introduced the works in his programme informatively and with humour.

The second-half pieces were all by living composers, and they were all very approachable, while showing some unusual effects such as long glissandi, slapping of the strings, and hitting the body of the instrument.

Two woks by Alec Roth had been written for Morgan himself and Simone Iannarelli, another guitar virtuoso wrote the humorous suite Italian Coffee. The final piece was Jongo by Paulo Bellinati, the Brazilian guitarist, with elements of jazz and strong rhythmic drive.

The large audience enthusiastically called for more, and Morgan favoured us with the well-known Memories of the Alhambra by Tarrega, leaving us with a final taste of his refined and delicate playing.

MORGAN SYMANSKI  guitar with MARK PADMORE tenor

Rochdale Music Society used our own magnificent town hall as a concert venue. It was a brave decision that worked well and gave us a memorable concert experience.

International classical guitarist Morgan Szymanski opened with Grand Overture Opus 61 by Giuliani, a charming piece from 1809 which served to tune us in to this quieter intimate sound world. Later he played solo works by Tarrega, Albeniz and Alec Roth that demonstrated that he is a player of the first rank.

His special guest was tenor Mark Padmore and together they performed lute songs by Dowland which were exquisite. We normally associate Lieder by Schubert with piano accompaniment but they were often performed as here, with guitar. Both composers came off the page beautifully, the mellifluous guitar complementing the finely modulated English tenor voice.

Collaboration between these two fine musicians was superb in works by Rochdale-born composer Alec Roth who introduced the items himself. The song cycle Chinese Gardens, the song Dark Night, and a set of English folk song arrangements, the latter dedicated to the sponsor of this evening’s concert, Mrs Jane Devaney who was present. The delicacy of construction and careful incorporation of exotic themes, be it South American or Chinese, and meticulous word setting give Alec Roth’s music an accessible and distinctive voice.

CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy at Birmingham Town Hall
Aug 12 2008 By Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post

‘As soloist in Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, Morgan Szymanski brought rhapsodic freedom of nuance and crispness of articulation to enliven this regrettably hackneyed piece, Seal’s orchestra accompanying with alert attentiveness.’

Birmingham Town Hall has been the venue for countless performances of Beethoven’s Symphony no.7 over the best part of two centuries, but not many of them will have been given with the vitality, energy and sheer rhythmic drive which we heard from the superlative CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy.

These young players are hand-picked from an already remarkable CBSOYO, and, like all the members of that amazing ensemble, play with dedication, skill and a willingness to learn.

The responsibility upon those who coach them is immense. In Michael Seal they have a conductor who, himself vastly experienced as a violinist in the CBSO, has learned his trade from the inside and is therefore able to direct his charges with insight and understanding.

The result in this most kinetic of symphonies was exhilarating, lively, vibrant and seamlessly flowing. If any complaint can be made, it is that the textures were string-dominated, from the top downwards, and important wind contributions were submerged. But to criticise at that level is to pay tribute to the immaculate expertise of all concerned.

Earlier in this attractive programme we admired brave gossamer string cascades in Arvo Part’s Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten, and found a link with the Suffolk composer (“naturally?-tuned horns a la Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings) in Ligeti’s Concerto Romanesc, a work which owes more to Bartok and Enescu rather than prefiguring any of the highly individual works later to flow from the Hungarian composer’s pen.

As soloist in Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, Morgan Szymanski brought rhapsodic freedom of nuance and crispness of articulation to enliven this regrettably hackneyed piece, Seal’s orchestra accompanying with alert attentiveness.

Orchestra of the Swan with Morgan Szymanski
Stratford Music Festival
Preston Witts, Stratford Herald, 25/10/07

“…After this came the work most of the audience had been waiting for – the massively popular Concierto de Aranjuez by the blind Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999). The guitar soloist, Morgan Szymanski, entranced the packed auditorium with a rendering of this music – especially the yearning, deeply romantic, slow movement – of which it’s most famous practitioners would have been proud….Mr Szymanski gave a solo encore of that haunting guitar piece by Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909), Recuerdos de la Alhambra, which was a calming but fitting finale to an evening of great musical brio.?

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