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Zane Turner
MusicWeb International, December 2008

Aside from merits of the programme, the credentials of the guitarist are, like his playing, impeccable. Born in 1984 in Malaga, Spain, Rafael Aguirre Minarro began his studies at the Malaga Conservatory in 1991. His early tutors include Teresa Garcia de Candido, Manuel Jesus Perez Vela, Miguel Tojar and Javier Chamizo, always achieving the highest performance ratings. In 2007 Minarro won first prize at the prestigious Tarrega International Competition, Bencasim, Spain. His past achievements include wins in the Pujol, Arcas, Sor and Guerrero International competitions.

Representing six different countries, the composers whose music is included on this disc have at least one thing in common: composition of music for the guitar. Fernando Sor, Francisco Tarrega, Heitor Villa- Lobos, Jacques Ibert, Francis Poulenc and Einojuhani Rautavaara are fairly well known to those who listen to classical guitar music. Less familiar may be Joaquin Clerch and Maurice Ohana.

Born in Havana, Joaquin Clerch studied with several teachers including Leo Brouwer and Costas Cotsiolis and then in Salzburg with Eliot Fisk, graduating from the Mozarteum with highest honours.  Both a guitarist and a composer, the works of Clerch are increasingly favoured by recording artists. The second longest piece on this disc, his Yemaya written in 1987, was awarded first prize in that year at both the Cuban Composition Competition, and the Toronto International Guitar Competition. The title Yemaya derives from Afro-Cuban Yoruba religion and refers to a deity worshipped as goddess and earth mother.

Maurice Ohana was born in 1913 of Gibraltarian parentage in Casablanca, North Africa. Ohana studied in Paris and in Barcelona with pianist Frank Marshall. Tientos is a flamenco form and Ohana’s title Tiento—originally the Spanish musicians’ version of toccata—may have been inspired by his fascination with gypsy music.

The longest piece of music presented [14:56] is Sor’s Fantaisie, Op 16. Despite considerable intrinsic worth, it is infrequently recorded. Variation No. 8 of this piece carries the notation ‘La Main gauche seule’—the left hand only. Used extensively in flamenco guitar, the ligado technique is not so common in classical guitar music. In Variation No. 8 some twenty measure s of music [7:38-8:42] excluding repeats, are executed totally independent of the right hand. The variation is so well performed by Minarro that those unfamiliar with the music may miss the subtle deviation, as only tonal property changes make this interesting technique discernable.

A programme of this composition exposes the very core of a player’s technical and musical capabilities. Rafael Minarro is at home with the music of Fernando Sor or Joaquin Clerch and his interpretation of Tarrega’s Carnival of Venice Variations would be hard to beat. The technical demands of the Villa-Lobos Studies, Clerch’s Estudio de escalas and Sor’s Op.16 are just examples of music that reveal Minarro’s prodigious technical facility.

The guitar used on this occasion was made by Australian luthier,  Zbigniew Gnatek.  Guitars of this design generally sacrifice a degree of sonority for greater volume, however this instrument fares better than most.  Gnatek, a very capable maker, is also an accomplished guitarist; he studied the classical guitar in Europe and at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music from which he hold a Bachelor of Music degree…

For guitarists it is always valuable to know which editions of the music are employed on a particular recording.  Naxos should be complimented for including this information with the review disc.

A well-balanced programme, strong technique and musicianship augur well for a rewarding musical experience, and that’s just what this disc provides.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2008

A prodigy who entered the Malaga Conservatory at the age of seven, Rafael Aguirre Minarro, won the first prize in the 2007 Tarrega International Competition. Born in Spain in 1984, he has had a most distinguished list of mentors, presently studying with Joaquin Clerch in Dusseldorf. Though very varied in style and period, he has chosen a programme of eight composers to display the talents he has on offer, though you might find so many moods and styles creating a rather fragmented disc. The classical traits of Fernando Sor’s Fantaisie is nicely handled by Minarro, and he captures the happiness in Ibert’s Arietta and Francaise, but is less happy in the French feel of Poulenc’s Sarabande. My personal discovery is Rautavaara’s Partita, an engaging score that sits so happily on the guitar. I am less taken by the myriad of notes we encounter in thee pieces by Joaquin Clerch: Sentimiento, Yemaya and Estudio de escales. Finally to Tarrega’s Variations on ‘Carnival in Venice’, a work where Minarro cannot hide the very high level of technical demand, intonation just a little suspect. Little evidence of left hand shifts, his right hand creating wonderfully clean articulation. Pity he did not chose a more substantial programme to display his undoubted skills. First class sound.

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