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American Record Guide, February 2007

Another in Naxos's Laureate Series, this involving the winner of the 2005 Guitar Foundation of America competition, Montreal guitarist Jerome Ducharme. He presents an interesting program and performs it with the excellence one expects of an international prizewinner.

The GFA competition always includes work written for the occasion, and this time was 'Appalachian Summer' by Matthew Dunne. It is tonal, with the elements of folk music one would expect from the title, but also makes considerable demands on the virtuosity of the performer. Ducharme presents convincing performance, which I'll look forward to returning to.

I'm less sanguine about Hetu's 'Suite' which seems to ramble. Any time a composer bases the bulk of a work's character on the open strings of the instrument, that seems formula for boredom. Berg got away with it in his violin concerto. The rest of you should use more imagination.

I hadn't heard the 'Fantasy-Sonata' of Joan Manen (the first name is a Catalan variant 'Juan') since Segovia's old recording from the 50s. It's nice to have a good performance in better sound.

Rodrigo's Three Spanish Pieces are give an exciting, fiery reading. The technical demands are considerable, but Ducharm makes light of them. There's never a hint of struggle, and all the layers of sound come through clearly and solidly, with the air of pure joy that can make this such a delight. The Ginastera Sonata is another sort of challenge. It's no less demanding technically, but it is more difficult to bring together all the strange elements the composer has piled on, including a quotation from Beckmesser's lute-accompanied Prize Song from Die Meistersinger. The guitarist produces one of the better readings of this work. The closing Falla Homenaje is an affecting encore.

This is a promising recording, well worth hearing, I hope to hear more from this talented young artist.

Zane Turner
MusicWeb International, December 2006

In 1962 Segoviais reported to have nominated the four greatest guitarists to emerge from the younger generation; three of these came from Spanish-speaking nations. During the past five decades the classical guitar has changed status from that of a predominantly Spanish instrument dominated by the Spanish-speaking world to one of true universality.

To survive, every cause needs its champions. Segovia was certainly the guitar’s international missionary and he promoted with zeal and dedication. Even in the far-flung Antipodes the influence of the maestro was felt. 1962 saw the arrival of Jose Luis Gonzalez in Australiato teach and concertise at the behest of Segovia.

Canadais fortunate to have enjoyed the influence of outstanding guitarists such as Norbert Kraft (b.1950) who migrated there as a child and was naturalised in 1954. More recently Canada has produced some very fine guitarists and luthiers. It is also in the city of Ontario that Norbert Kraft and his wife harpsichordist Bonnie Silver produce much of the excellent Naxos Laureate Series for Guitar.

The review disc featuring Canadian guitarist Jérôme Ducharme is a recent addition to that same series. It was recorded in March 2006 the year following Ducharme‘s First Prize win in the Guitar Foundation of America Competition.

Ducharme was born in 1978 and in 1990 commenced his initial musical training at the Cultural Centre of Joliette. Later at the Montréal Conservatoire he won high distinction studying there with Jean Vallières from 1994. He then went to Switzerland and continued studies with Oscar Ghiglia and Stephan Schmidt. Subsequent master-classes include those with Manuel Barrueco, Pepe Romero, Roland Dyens and Odair Assad.

Of the six composers represented on the review disc Rodrigo, Ginastera and de Falla are familiar, particularly to guitar audiences. Less familiar are Matthew Dunne, Jacques Hétu and Juan Manén.

Guitarist/composer Matthew Dunne holds a doctorate degree from the University of Texas, at Austin, in classical and jazz performance. He is head of the guitar programme at that the University of Texas, San Antonio. Appalachian Summer (1) was written for the 2005 GFA Competition held at Oberlin.

Jacques Hétu was born in Québec in 1938. His training record is impressive and he has served in various academic positions including the Université Laval and the Université de Montréal. From 1980-82 and then 1986-88 he was the head of the music department at the Université du Québec à Montréal. He is a prolific composer and the recipient of numerous honours. His guitar Suite op. 41, written in 1986, comprises five relatively short movements the contrasts between which are quite striking.

Born in Barcelonain 1883, Juan Manén’s contemporary reputation was primarily that of a violinist; although self-taught as a composer he showed equal precocity. Like fellow-Catalan Miguel Llobet, he arranged Catalan and Spanish melodic material. This makes occasional appearances in some of Manén’s compositions. Written around 1930 Fantasie-Sonata is initially inspired by harmonies suggested by guitar tuning; Catalan melodic elements become more apparent as the work progresses.

Having listened to the programme several times it is not surprising to learn that Ducharme won First Prize at the 2005 GFA Competition. His musicianship and technical facility are of a high standard. The sound produced on his René Wilhelmy guitar is balanced and sonorous. Wilhelmy is a leading Canadian luthier and has been strongly influenced in his design concepts by the Madrid builder Jose Ramirez III and Robert Bouchet of Paris certainly the sound produced on this occasion is more evocative of the former.

The programme initially impresses as one particularly suited to a committed guitar audience. All the music was written in the twentieth century with the exception of track one which was written five years after the turn of the century. Within the context of the guitar repertory aspects of the programme demand some dedicated listening, eg. Fantasie-Sonata (7) lasts for an uninterrupted 18:01. I recall Lachenmann’s Salute For Chris Caudwell, a twenty-five minute marathon, representing similar aural challenges. The addition of a lighter item or two to the programme may have broadened the musical appeal.

The last item on the programme, de Falla’s Homenaje (15), brings to mind an excited reaction by Benjamin Britten when he called backstage after a rendition of the same piece by Julian Bream: ‘Julian that de Falla piece is a most magnificent piece. You know it probably only lasts 4 or 5 minutes but there is over 20 minutes of music in it.’ My reaction to the review rendition may not have been so effusive, but it nonetheless is well done.

This performance is of the standard we have come to expect from a GFA winner. The programme will probably hold most appeal with the guitar fraternity.

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