Gramophone Review – July 2007

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