Old favourites in safe hands


Andrew Blanch

Andrew Blanch

A young artist with no time to waste, Andrew Blanch is a graduate of the Australian National University and he has self-produced this collection which holds, inter alia, several well-known highlights from the repertoire; which is to say, if you’ve been familiar with the work of Segovia and his successors for the last 60 years or so, little on the disc will come as a surprise.  From this exhibition of musical craft, Blanch is quite justified in putting his talent before the public.  The versions that he offers of the staples are freshly considered and capable; as well, there are several pieces here that you won’t hear often these days but which have been allowed unfairly to fall by the wayside.

Inevitably, Blanch presents some arrangements, but they are pretty much all of high quality, including two Pujol transcriptions of extracts from Falla’s El amor brujo, Leo Brouwer‘s straightforward take on a Scarlatti sonata, an expertly constructed version of Albeniz’s Sevilla by expatriate Cuban master Manuel Barrueco, and three other works re-scored by Blanch’s teachers, Timothy Kain and Minh Le Hoang.

For the rest, the disc’s content is exactly what it promises.  Along with Tarrega’s all-too-familiar Recuerdos de la Alhambra comes the same composer’s Variations on the Carnival of Venice after Paganini, three of the 24 Caprichos de Goya by Castelnuovo-Tedesco (all right – an honorary Spaniard), three transparent Catalan folksongs by Llobet, and Turina’s haunting Fandanguillo.

Blanch’s readings are expertly shaped, trusting to the music to make its own points without having to exert any theatrical gestures.  For example, the opening track – the Miller’s Dance from Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat ballet (arranged by Kain) – is handled with a welcome sense of give and take.   Its biting farruca rhythm and the concurrent patches of rasgueado propose a stately drama; then Blanch pulls the tension back for the open-ended melodic theme that follows, and even the stringendo climax is articulated with controlled excitement rather than the customary lurch towards applause-inducing hysteria.  The third piece of Blanch’s Falla bracket, Song of the Will-o’-the-Wisp, offers a similar study by emphasizing the striking colour of the surrounding framework while delivering the lyrical melody itself with a comparatively restrained dynamic.

Tarrega’s well-known tremolo study coloured by memories of the Granadan palace/fortress is given an unexpectedly moderated reading, Blanch’s maintenance of the melody carried out without any automatism but with precisely managed and appropriate touches of rubato, the piece’s digital difficulties negotiated with a reassuring uniformity of attack.   Later, in the first of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Caprichos, El sueno de la razon produce monstruos, the twin lines of melody and active supporting bass come across with mutual clarity; nothing is underplayed or recessed but the central lyric remains perceptible.  For all that, the emotional content itself is hardly indicative of the monsters that Goya envisioned; too controlled in its vocabulary to bring horrors to the mind, I would have thought.

The Sevilla by Albeniz (Barrueco’s transcription sticks to the original piano solo’s G Major) is less busy than many another guitarist makes it, Blanch giving a slight emphasis by way of a minute fermata to the full chords that start each phrase in the outer segments.   But his semiquaver figure-work is immaculate and the central C minor meno mosso delivery offers an unusual but appropriately musing interlude.  With the three Llobet settings, Blanch fleshes out pretty stark material on the page with a wealth of vivid detail, including carefully articulated harmonics in the outer folksongs.  The simplest of these, El testament d’Amelia, provides one of the more sensitive interpretations on the CD, Blanch taking pains to give weight to the top line at the two points where the melody moves to octave harmonics and also on its final appearance when it is positioned inside the accompaniment.

The performer outlines Llobet’s Scherzo-Vals with a deft application of humour, especially in the articulation of the piece’s signature acciaccaturas, and then throughout its length with an old-time elasticity of metre, hesitating before nodal points and then launching back into the dance pulse with gusto.  He takes this sample of salon music and infuses it with affection and bonhomie, right up to a supple account of the brief coda.  The following pair of Scarlatti sonatas remain in their original keys, Brouwer’s version of the G Major K. 146 the more successful for its easy flow of arpeggios and busy sequences of repeated 2nds.  Minh Le Hoang made fair work of transporting the A minor K. 175 to this new medium but the piece ranks among the composer’s more percussive sonatas  –  full of drama, punctuated by harmonic clashes and requiring a hefty dynamic output.   Once heard, Rafael Puyana’s explosive 1966 recorded account set the bar for the work’s fierce emotional imprint, which is only faintly echoed in this gentlemanly treatment.

Still, the Carnival of Venice variations are a congenial way to end this self-introductory display.   Not as ferociously finger-stretching as the Paganini set that inspired Tarrega, they offer plenty of challenges, although Blanch – like any sensible player – picks the most congenial and personable from the composer’s uneven sequence.   If you want legerdemain, it’s here in spades: after a lengthy introduction comes a high-spirited gambol to leaven some of the the collection’s more sombre, meditative tracks.

In all, this disc bears strong witness to the guitarist’s interpretative skill as he turns from cornerstones of the instrument’s repertoire, through exacting arrangements, to virtuosic show-pieces.  It’s an auspicious and welcome start to his recording career and you can find further details about him at http://www.andrewblanch.com

Posted in CD