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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, January 2008

Naxos runs a Laureate Series under which rubric we find this guitar entrant. Its protagonist is the young Nirse González, first prizewinner at the 2006 Tárraga International Guitar Competition, held in Benicásim. The programme runs from the expected Ponce, transcribed Bach and Tárraga himself to some splendid vignette pieces written by Joaquin Clerch and a big 1933 sonata by the tragically short-lived Antonio José.

José was born in 1902 in Burgos, the city in which he died in 1936, executed by a Falangist firing squad. A friend of Dali he was also friends with Lorca, who of course shared his melancholy fate. The sonata was rediscovered in the late 1980s and from Graham Wade’s sleeve notes it appears that only one movement was performed at its incomplete premiere in November 1934, one given by Regino Sáinz de la Maza. The sonata is in four movements. There’s considerable metrical freedom in the opening Allegro moderato as it moves from reflective intimacy to more obviously virtuosic runs. There’s some especially fine control of dynamics from González and equally fine an array of tone colours. The Minuetto has a songful, rather contemporary sound, slightly jazz-inflected, lightly syncopated. The slow movement is a slow Pavane (Pavana triste), lucid, warm and redolent of harp balladry and the finale moves from quizzical moments to all-out flamenco drive. That a sonata this exciting and ear catching should have disappeared for so long has clearly been a considerable loss.

Inspired by, and dedicated to, Segovia Ponce’s Thème varié et finale is by now mainstream guitar repertoire. The molto più lent section is indeed a highpoint in any performance, and is so here. The songfulness and harmonic interest seldom flag and Ponce cannily avoids the trap of easy lyricism. The variations are arresting in terms of timbre, rhythm and colours to be evoked – Ponce relying on a full panoply of Segovian technique. The challenges are well met by González.

Doubtless it was Segovia who inspired the younger guitarist to try his hand at the inevitable Bach transcription; here it’s the A minor solo violin sonata. His articulation in the Fuga is impressive, and dynamics are well shaded. And he brings real warmth to the Andante without allowing the line to sag or cloy in any way. Joaquin Clerch dedicated Estudio de acordes to González and it’s the most technically demanding of the three pieces by the composer presented here. One of the guitarist’s strongest virtues is his capacity to generate warm sonorities in his playing, something he does in Clerch’s En Volos. As an envoi we have two characteristic pieces by Tárraga of which Adelita is a charming Mazurka.

The Naxos engineering team – Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver – have had considerable experience in presenting their guitarists in recital for Naxos and Kraft invariably secures a warm and well-balanced sound, as here. Finely played throughout the José is the centrepiece of the recital.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2007

Born in Caracas in 1981, Nirse Gonzalez must have spent much of his young life taking part in the competitions that has created a long portfolio of successes, the most recent coming as winner of the 2006 Tarrega International Guitar Competition. That result brought about this recording in Naxos's 'Laureate Series'. Two composers in his programme need a few words, particularly so in the case of Antonio Jose whose career was cut short in 1936 when at at the age of 34 he became a victim of the Spanish Civil War. A recent Naxos recording of his orchestral work, Sinfonica castellana, has done much to reinstate his position as one of the most eminent Spanish composers of his time. a fact reinforced by the Guitar Sonata dating from 1933 but not rediscovered until the late 1980's. His knowledge of the instrument was such that he could explore its sonorities and produce a finale that would both display the skill of the performer and excite the listener. Joaquin Clerch is presently Gonzalez's mentor at the Robert Schumann University in Dusseldorf. Born in Cuba in 1965 he has enjoyed a career as a concert guitarist following his student years with the great Leo Brouwer, his compositions including En Volos, a picture of a Greek town, while the two Estudios are functional studies in guitar technique that have a catchy melody. The Ponce needs no introduction, while the two mazurkas by Francisco Tarrega reflect his fascination with the piano music of Chopin. I have an aversion to guitarists strumming through arrangements of Bach, particularly when there is so much original guitar music that needs performances. Throughout the disc I admire the clarity of Gonzalez's playing, his almost noiseless shifts of left hand and the rhythmic exactitude of his right hand with its lovely fleshy soft chords that are a joy. All too often guitar competition winners have a short shelf life, but I hope we will hear a lot more of this young Cuban, his musicianship a cut above others I have heard in recent years. Sound quality from Naxos's guitar headquarters is as immaculate as ever.

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