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Guide to Classical Music


"A Guitarist's Guide to Classical Music"

contributed by Aaron Orsak

WOW!...you guys are really interested in classical guitar!? FANTASTIC!...just thought I'd say a few things about the genesis of this "column." I first found Glen's wonderful page while searching for information on Ibanez's beautiful JS10th "Chromeboy." What I found was a very interesting, well designed, and informative page dedicated to Ibanez's JEM model; however, upon reading the various articles and voluminous feedback you guys (and gals!) have sent Glen, it became clear to me that fans/regulars of the page are interested in much more than simply one guitar, company and/or Steve Vai...so we talked it over and decided that everyone would enjoy some info on the classical guitar.

Just remember the information in this article is strictly opinion, and my taste in music probably doesn't appeal to everyone...but give it a try. At least then you can judge for yourself! If anyone has any comments or suggestions, please feel free to email me or Glen...ENJOY!

Out of all the classical guitar CD's I own, I have, after much debate, come up with my ten favorite so far:

John Williams: From the Jungles of Paraguay...Plays Barrios. Sony Classical. This could be my favorite classical guitar CD of all time. Just for the record, John Williams is the most brilliant classical guitarist the world has ever known, and anyone that questions that simply needs their head examined. Agustin Barrios (1885-1944), the composer flawlessly showcased here, is perhaps the finest guitarist/composer (i.e. he played only the guitar and composed music exclusively for that instrument...much of the great guitar music was transcribed from harpsichord, piano, symphony, etc.) that ever lived. Williams' performance here consistently blows my mind...and the material is of quality second to none.

Philip Hii: Johann Sebastian Bach...New Transcriptions for Guitar. GSP Recordings. Great for the speed freak! The playing on this CD is absolutely stunning, and the material is, of course, outstanding...Bach's music is pure genious, and so is Hii's performance.

David Tanenbaum: Estudios. GSP Recordings. This is absolutely essential stuff for any student of the guitar, regardless of skill level. Tanenbaum, a much respected teacher, set out to make the definitive recordings of the definitive "estudios" (Spanish for "studies"). Showcased here are the mandatory estudios for any student university-level audition...a harrowing experience, let me tell you! If you are SERIOUS about the continuing study of professional classical guitar, buy this double CD set, purchase the matching sheet music (available through Guitar Solo Publications...415-386-0395, they have the most comprehensive catalog I have found), and lock yourself in a room until you have mastered at least five estudios from each of the three chosen composers. If you're not so serious, it still makes excellent listening!

Sergio & Odair Assad: Play Scarlatti, Rameau, Couperin, and Bach. Elektra Nonesuch. The world's foremost guitar duo makes their first appearance on my list...and for good reason. Although I am not particularly a fan of guitar duos, I absolutely love the Assads! Not only do they transcribe their own music, but the tonal quality of the dual Thomas Humphrey Millenium guitars provides a very mellow, pleasant timbre. These two brothers are incredibly skilled craftsmen...definitely a favorite of mine!

Eliot Fisk: For Eliot. GSP Recordings. These early recordings from one of Andres Segovia's most beloved and skilled students are very, very good...I think perhaps even better than his recent recordings. Fisk is known for playing his balls off, and these selections, particularly the Scarlatti Sonatas and Paganini Capricci, are as exciting as they are mesmerizing.

Jon Williams: The Seville Concert. Sony Classical. This CD is a great introductory collection for beginning clashsical guitar listeners, and is also available on VHS and Laserdisc. Not only does it give you a taste of some essential classical composers, but it also covers some very interesting contemporary composers. The difference between modern guitar music and classical guitar music is subtle, for it is still the same instrument we're talking about, but this is the best CD I've found allowing you to directly compare the two broad categories. And, by the way, John Williams' performance is again brilliant.

Turibio Santos: The Magic of the Guitar. Erato. Unfortunately, this excellent CD is out of print and incredibly hard to find...but if you do find it, BUY IT! Santos' performance of Villa-Lobos' first Estudio is the best I've ever heard, and his interpretations of the Sor Estudios are equally impressive. A very mellow, spring evening recording...best if listened to while smoking your favorite cigar!

Manuel Barrueco: 300 Years of Guitar Masterpieces. VoxBox3. If you buy only one classical guitar compilation in your entire life, let it be this one. Compiled from various recordings in Barrueco's still flourishing career, this 3-CD monster covers just about every staple classical guitar composer. Barrueco is one of my favorite players simply because his style is so transcendental...you pay no attention to his remarkable technique, only the beautiful music. This is how classical guitar is supposed to sound.

John Williams: The Baroque Album. Sony Classical. You have to hear his version of Bach's Chaccone to believe it! Absolutely incredible! It's also very nice to hear Couperin on guitar...gotta love the French! Anyway, I like this album because Williams' choice of material is very ecclectic...much like his Seville Concert CD, it's nice to compare the well-known pieces with the more obscure. Not my absolute favorite, but if you really get hooked on John Williams, definitely a must buy.

Eliot Fisk: Paganini...24 Caprices. Musicmasters Classics. This one cramps my fingers just from listening to it! The very first classical guitar CD I ever purchased and still one of the best. Fisk, as usual, continues to pioneer the classical guitar...if you can figure out some of the "new" techniques he uses here, you're twice the guitarist I am! Seriously, be careful with this one...it is so good (INTIMIDATING) that it almost made me quit the guitar! A small listening hint...listen to the very last track first, then start from one. Trust me, you'll want to hear the 24th Capricci twice!

Well, there it is...my ten current favorites. Hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it! Please let me know what you think [or post to the Jemsite Forum], and if there is anything specific you would like to request, please don't hesitate to ask! Until next time, KEEP PLAYING!