, August 2001
"The Laureate Series by the Naxos label highlights the talents of young musicians who have achieved success in various competitions around the world. The guitar is well represented with a number of releases over the last few years.
"Jose Antonio Escobar was awarded first prize in the 2000 International Francisco Tarrega Competition.
"The music on this disc could be said to fall into two categories: Iberian and the rest. The music from Spain spans some two hundred years. In addition there are pieces by J S Bach and Frank Martin. Though separated by two hundred years Martin took the baroque suite as a basis for his 'Quatre Piéce Breves'.
"All the works here have been recorded before, Naxos already have versions of the Bach and the Asencio as well as most of the Tarrega and Albéniz. Only the Aguado and the Martin are new to their lists.
"José Antonio Escobar's playing displays a confident air with mature phrasing that may, I suggest, owe more than a little to Julian Bream; in fact it may be more than a coincidence that a good proportion of the pieces on this disc have been recorded by Bream. Escobar may well have an admiration for the English guitarist. This is particularly evident in Albéniz's 'Mallorca' and the 'Rondo No.2 in A minor' of Aguado.
"Guitarists have long sought to transcribe Bach's solo violin and cello works as alternatives to the more readily adaptable Suites for lute. The Sonata in G minor, BWV 1001 proves to be very apt (Segovia recorded the 'Fuga' from this Suite early in his recording career and for many years it was also a favourite in the recitals of Bream). Escobar gives a satisfyingly involved reading of this work, the 'Adagio' having an improvised quality about it, the "Siciliano" a more serene atmosphere after the intensity of the 'Fuga' and before the brisk concluding 'Presto'.
"The attractive miniatures of Francisco Tarrega do not try to compete with the highly charged world of the Bach that precedes them. Instead they , but are more likely to give a little light relief. Escobar¡¦s stylish playing of the gavota 'Maria' and the polka 'Rosita', in particular, put me in mind of the pair of perked, possibly mischievous, young girls of their titles.
"Written in 1933, Frank Martin's 'Quatre Pieces Breves' must be a contender for the first truly modern work written for the guitar. Loosely based on Baroque forms the individual movements, though having an improvised feel, are highly structured. To those not familiar with it this work can be very rewarding with repeated listening.
"The 20th century has given us many popular Spanish composers for the guitar, Joaquin Turina (1882-1949), Joaquin Rodrigo (1902-1999) and Fredrico Moreno Torroba (1991-1982), to name but three. I always felt that Vicente Asencio stood apart from his contemporaries, whereas Turina, Rodrigo and Torroba, for the most part, derived their music from the folk traditions and dance forms of Spain. Asencio seemed to be drawn more to the emotional side of the human condition as a basis for composition, 'Collectici intim' being a good example. This puts unusual demands on the performer, as a work of this nature requires a more intuitive approach to give it any credibility. Escobar delivers a convincing account of the pieces, the technical difficulties not being apparent.
"Naxos have yet again given us a varied selection of well played, well recorded guitar music. Most enjoyable."