Album Review: Andrew Blanch – Spanish Guitar Music

First up – Happy New Year all! Here we are in 2016! Hope you all had enjoyable holidays.

I had a particularly enjoyable holiday listening to the inaugural recording of up-and-coming Aussie guitarist, Andrew Blanch (those of you who’ve followed the blog for a while may recall I did an interview with Andrew back in November 2014 – head here to check it out:

This first outing on CD for Andrew is a cracking one – a very high quality recording both in terms of playing and the production values throughout the entire recording (little surprise there given that the producer is none other than seminal Australian guitarist Timothy Kain). On first listen it would be fair to say that I really was bowled over by both the consistent depth and quality of Andrew’s tone production. I was equally bowled over by the sensitivity of the recording to allow that to shine through. Really fantastic stuff.


And this quality of tonal production and spot-on musicality comes really to the fore for me on track 5 – Capricho No. 18 from Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s 24 Caprichos de Goya for Guitar Op. 195 (No. 18 El sueno de la razon produce monstruos).  Beautifully lyrical playing supported by lush upper register playing under pinned by seriously fat, rich, round basses. Mmmmm……

Capricho No. 18 is joined by Caprichos 20 and 16 rounding out the Castelnuovo-Tedesco contributions to this recording.

The album opens with a fantastic rendition of de Falla’s The Miller’s Dance from El sombrero de tres picos – this piece is actually one of the highlights of the recording for me. A great choice as an album opener, setting the tone both in terms of musical style and Andrew’s awesome playing, pulsating with suppressed Spanish machismo. This is followed up with the gently lulling The Fisherman’s Story and Song of the Will-o’-the Whisp, both from de Falla’s El amor brujo.

The recording also features some classics of the repertoire, such as Tarrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra, Albeniz’s Sevilla and Malaguena and Turina’s Fandanguillo. All of which Andrew plays with deft aplomb as if he’s lived and breathed these pieces for years. The Malaguena and Sevilla deserve a special mention actually.

The Malaguena is artfully presented – a lyrical melody, and strong sense of direction without being over the top. Have a look and  listen for yourself….

As for the Sevilla, for a piece that can sometimes feel a little sluggardly in lesser hands this is a particularly delicately delivered offering, revealing some of the delightful prettiness of this piece, especially in the upper register. It made me dream up visions of some beautiful Spanish garden, or plaza, shimmering in the summer heat. Pass me the sangria!

Andrew also present us with some Llobet (including a lively Scherzo-Vals and all three of the Three Catalan Folksongs – Canco del lladre is particularly beautifully played) and Scarlatti (Sonata in G K.146 and Sonata in Am K.175), before rounding out the recording with Tarrega’s delightful Carnival of Venice.

If you’re looking for some beautifully rich imaginings of some well-known (and slightly lesser known) Spanish pieces presented wonderfully by the new wave of contemporary classical guitarists then you’d do well to pick up this recording by Andrew Blanch.

If you want to get your mitts on a copy of Andrew’s recording (and I highly recommend you do) in either digital or CD format (the CD packaging and liner notes are particularly nice to by the way)  head over to his Bandcamp page

And to keep up to date with all of Andrew’s goings on be sure to check out his website:



Album Review: Premieres by Hilary Field

I have been fortunate yet again, dear readers, to have the enormous pleasure of listening to and reviewing for you a fantastic recording, this time by award-winning guitarist/composer Hilary Field.

This recording features world premiere music by contemporary composers that celebrates the natural lyrical, rhythmic and harmonic beauty of the classical guitar. It features contemporary pieces, some of which have been dedicated to Hilary, from Richard Charlton, Douglas Lora, Jorge Morel, Alberto Cumplido, Victor Kioulaphides, Nadia Borislova, Gerard Droza, Rick Sowash and Field herself.

In the recording’s creation, Hilary worked closely with each of the respective composers to expand the guitar literature  – a huge plus point for me and something I think that more classical guitarists should be venturing to do. So first “well done” on that Hilary, as far as I’m concerned!

And for those of you not familiar with Hilary, she’s a Seattle, Washington based guitarist and composer and has garnered praise for her dynamic virtuosity, her sensitive musicianship, and for the emotional depth she brings to the heart of classical guitar music. Hilary is a past winner of the Northwest Young Artist Series Competition and was the first guitarist to win the Francis Walton Soloist Competition. She has held faculty positions as the head of the Guitar department at Seattle Pacific University and Pacific Lutheran University. She has released several award winning CDs, including her debut recording, “Music of Spain and Latin America,” which was an award winner for Classical Album of the Year by the National Association of Independent Record Distributors. Hilary was recently sponsored by the US Embassy to perform and tour in South America, and has been a featured performer in international guitar festivals such as Festival Entrecuerdas in Chile, Festival Internacional de Guitarra ICPNA in Perú, and Série Grands Concerts in Québec.

On first listening, aside from I’m struck by the quality of the playing, depth of musicality and great selection of newer pieces.

The Giga from Jorge Morel’s Suite for Olga could well be my favourite from the 19 individual tracks on the album – sprightly, fun and stunningly played. Controlled abandonment, if that makes sense?! I could hear that in lesser hands this could get out of control! Clear and precise lines, yet with a tangible sense of enjoyment in the playing and unwaveringly beautiful tone throughout. A really lovely closing piece to this great three piece suite from Jorge Morel.

Richard Charlton’s Lauro-inspired Vals by Moonlight from the Suite Latina  and Douglas Lora’s Northeastern Lullaby are also worth a mention, with the former creating somewhat of an earworm for me. I want to play it for myself now – there’s a real inspirational quality to Hilary’s playing that I’ve not experienced for a while with a recording.

And I can’t overlook the opportunity of course to mention Hilary’s own piece Donzella: Fantasia on a Sephardic Lullaby. A heavenly melancholy delight. And you can take a listen (and watch) for yourself right here…..


Donzella: Fantasia on a Sephardic Lullaby

Overall Premieres is a high quality recording – superb playing with beautiful depth of tone, excellent production and a great collection of contemporary classical guitar pieces (something we definitely need more of out there). A highly recommended recording, and quite possibly one of my favourites for the year. Very well done indeed.

Premieres is available now on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon and all good record stores. Do yourself a favour and buy your copy now!

And if you want to catch Hilary in person she’s currently scheduling a number of release concerts and will be featured in a number of upcoming international guitar festivals – check out her website for more details:

Album Review: Guitar Recital by Kazu Suwa

I’ve been fortunate enough to listen to over the last few weeks to the latest recording by London-based Japanese guitarist Kazu Suwa. Incidentally, Kazu’s website is one of the websites I feature on my “Links To Other Stuff” page:

And it’s a cracking recording of 22 delightfully played pieces including classics of the repertoire alongside some fantastic guitar arrangements of Catalan composer’s Frederic Mompou’s piano works, one transcribed by Kazu himself. More on those in a bit.

The classics on the recording including much-loved favourites such as Adelita, Lagrima and Capricho Arabe amongst six pieces by Francisco Tarrega. The latter two are particular favourites of mine on the recording I have to say. As well-loved as they are there can be a tendency for these pieces to be over-played and over-recorded. However I do feel that Kazu’s interpretation is really quite fresh particularly on the Capricho Arabe – a deft, delicate yet virtuosic touch with a lovely lilting musicality, really bringing out the essence of that Romantic style without overdoing it and being overly schmaltzy. Spot on.

The Tarrega pieces are followed by three Abel Fleury pieces – again played with a beautiful touch. The little Estilo Pampeano is my favourite of the three for sure – gorgeous, and proving he’s equally at home with the Latin side of the repertoire as he is with the Romantic stuff. And this is reinforced by the equally beautiful Choro de Saudade by Augustin Barrios Mangore.

The album also features other pieces by Barrios, So, Garoto, Hector Ayala, Villa-Lobos and Reis (of which Eterna Saudade (Valsa) is definitely worthy of a mention – rich lush tone, aching melody played with a clear sense of longing. You can just feel the heartbreak coming through your headphones!

The standout favourites for me on the recording, in amongst all this beautiful playing, are Kazu’s interpretations of two Frederic Mompou pieces – Canço i Dansa No. XI (arranged by Kazu) and Canço i Dansa No. VI: Canço (arranged by Alirio Diaz). Both arrangements, and of course the playing, are just divine.

My favourite of the two is the Canço i Dansa No. XI (arranged by Kazu) and it sounds like it really is naturally at home on the guitar, rather than piano. A triumph of arrangement no less! And it’s a fantastic piece, beautifully played, with this perfectly balanced sense of musical aching that Kazu seems to be master of in the first section of the piece. It then moves into a section of the piece with a sunnier disposition, with that Kazu plays with equal style and musical direction.

And there are couple of chords, one around the 1:44 mark, one around the 2:44 and 3:34 mark in the recording, that are just so rich and juicy I want to eat them!

Overall this is a fantastic recording that deserves to be heard by as many guitar aficionados as possible, and much wider. Some sensitive, tasteful and well-informed playing of well-known favourites, wonderful arrangements and interpretations of lesser known works, paired up with just downright gorgeous playing.

This is a truly beautiful recording.


Info on where to get your copy of the recording, and listen to some snippets, can be found here:

Melbourne Guitar Foundation Launches Inaugural International Classical Guitar Festival and Competition

If you’re looking for some fantastic guitar-related action next weekend (and even if you weren’t) then look no further than Melbourne.

Michael MacManus and Evan Hopkins, founders of the Melbourne Guitar Foundation, have been working their socks off again to bring us the inaugural Melbourne International Guitar Festival and Competition featuring several world class recitals from Saturday 19th September to Sunday 20th September at Melba Hall, the University of Melbourne, Royal Parade, Parkville.

Festival passes are $50/$40 full/concession.


The weekend will feature several concerts featuring world class artists: Vladimir Gorbach (2011 GFA International concert artist winner and recently appointed head of guitar at the Sydney Conservatorium), Alex Tsiboulski (winner of 7 international music competitions, ARIA nominated and NAXOS recording artist) and the Melbourne Guitar Quartet (the string quartet for guitars! Part of the Melbourne Recital Centre 2015 Local Heroes program) with support from the Victorian Guitar Orchestra (featuring yours truly!).

The competition, which has drawn 50 entrants from all states of Australia and New Zealand, includes Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and Open categories, will be held between the concerts.

Young Melbourne Entrepreneurs and current classical guitar M.Mus(Performance) students from the Melbourne Conservatorium, Michael MacManus and Evan Hopkins, banded together in late 2014 to establish the Melbourne Guitar Foundation. Their mission is promote and cultivate the classical guitar in Australia. With a vision of an engaged local community of guitarists contributing towards a culture of learning, support and sharing of ideas to create the best musical and artistic environment in Australia.

After a highly successful international concert season in 2015, featuring international Swedish star Johannes Möller, Guitar Trek member Minh Le Hoang, European-based ensemble Duo Amythis, and a $1000 student scholarship program, the MGF is gearing up for their biggest event of the year.

And this is what Michael has had to say about the inaugural Festival and Competition:

This festival essentially follows on from the work I did in 2013 when I organised and ran a large national guitar competition through the Classical Guitar Society of Victoria. Unfortunately CGSV stopped running this competition last year, so Evan Hopkins (who co- runs the MGF with me) and I are picking up the reigns to continue this tradition, and add to it by including a festival component! We are very grateful for the support of the CGSV who are kindly donating the $1000 first prize for our competition, and our other sponsors, GuitarsOnline, Hannabach Strings, Thomas Lloyd Guitars, Hans Music Spot and CutCommon magazine.

This festival was created as a way for us to bring together the close guitar family throughout Australia and a chance to promote the classical instrument to audiences in Melbourne. It also gives a platform for our up-and-coming musicians to showcase their talents in front of a receptive audience. The festival component includes several fantastic concerts of the highest calibre and we are thrilled to see some competitor entrants flying over from New Zealand to be involved!

I personally reckon Michael and Evan are doing a bloody good job in their mission so far! Keep it up guys and really looking forward to the Festival!

The MGF festival on Sept 19 and 20, will feature:
Sept 19: 1:30pm – Lunch time recital by the Melbourne Guitar Quartet with support from the Victorian Guitar Orchestra and Melbourne Conservatorium Guitar Ensemble.
Sept 19: 7pm – Vladimir Gorbach

Sept 20: 7pm – Alex Tsiboulski
Both evening recitals are catered during intermission with free wine, beer, chocolate and cheese platters available.

The festival will be held at the historic Melba Hall, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Named after the great Dame Nellie Melba, who laid the foundation stone, this Heritage Listed Building continues to breathe new life into the Melbourne music scene.

Attendees may purchase festival passes at $50/$40 (full/concession) which include entry to each recital and competition viewing, or individual concerts are $30/$25. Tickets and further information can be found via

About the Artists

Vladimir Gorbach

Internationally acclaimed guitarist Vladimir Gorbach has captivated audiences across Europe, Australia the United States and his native country of Russia.

His international success began when he was accepted into the Yehudi Menuhin Foundation “Live Music Now” outreach program. He then went on to win many international guitar competitions and prizes in Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Greece and most recently at the 2011 Guitar Foundation of America earning him a full season concert tour throughout North America, including at Debut Carnegie Hall, NY; Canada, Mexico, South America, and China, in addition to a publication with Mel Bay and a recording for Naxos label distributed worldwide.

In 2013 Vladimir took on his new duties to lead the guitar program at the California State University, Fullerton, in addition to his new role as the first International Artist Fellow in Music at the University of Southern California, Thornton School of Music to pursue his Doctoral of Musical Arts (DMA) studies. (USC’s most elite graduate fellowship, nick-named as the “Rhodes Scholarship” for the Arts, which is granted annually to only one fellow in each of six arts schools at USC).

He has performed in recital and as soloist with chamber ensembles of Orchestra de Las Beiras, the Orchestra de Aveiro (Portugal), the Russian Academic Chamber Orchestra Musica Viva, the Symphony Orchestra of New Russia, and Junge Philharmonie Köln , as well as appearances at the Moscow Philharmonic Concert Series, Koblenz International Guitar Festival (Germany), Guitar Art Festival Belgrade (Serbia), Vienna Guitar Forum  (Austria),  Nantes Summer Guitar Academy (France), Vondelpark Festival (The Netherlands), and Sydney Crows Nest Concert Cycle (Australia), in addition to giving master-classes at numerous festivals.

This year Vladimir started his appointment at the University of Sydney, Sydney Conservatorium of Music as the chair of the guitar studies.

Melbourne Guitar Quartet

The guitar family is to the guitar world what the string quartet is to the string world. Repertoire creation for this trail blazing genre is central to the Melbourne Guitar Quartet’s mission, and is an exciting development in the guitar – playing scene.It will pave the way for future generations of classical guitar quartets in Australia and internationally.

MGQ’s passion, experience and dedication ensures that whichever music they turn their hands to receives the utmost attention to detail. Preservation of the inherent musical characteristics and enhancement of the music is paramount in their arrangements. Whether it is an arrangement of a modern Australian work or a re-modelling of a traditional chamber work, MGQ surpasses the limitations of standard guitar ensemble performance and brings the music to life in a new light with the instruments of the guitar family. Composers are often completely surprised to find out that their works translate so effectively in this idiom. On hearing Omphalo Centric Lecture for marimba quartet, Nigel Westlake writes:

“…I would never have imagined that Omphalo could work so well in this context, and it is testament to the MGQ’s perseverance, attention to detail and technical excellence that this performance sings with all the energy & joy that was the inspiration behind the original composition almost 30 years ago.”

Nigel Westlake June 2010

Guitar performance is set to transform with MGQ at the helm. Join them on their ground – breaking journey of creating new repertoire for guitar quartet.

Alex Tsiboulski

Ukrainian-born guitarist Alex Tsiboulski began playing the guitar at age 12, shortly after moving to Australia. He is winner of seven international competitions, including the 2000 Australian Guitar Competition, 2003 Gisborne Instrumental Music Competition (NZ) and the 2006 Tokyo International Guitar Competition. His second solo release, Australian Guitar Music on Naxos was nominated for Best Classical Album at the 2010 ARIA awards.

He has performed widely as a soloist as well as a chamber musician. Together with tenor Robert Macfarlane, he is a part of Duo Trystero, a voice and guitar ensemble dedicated to recently composed works of literary and musical significance.

2015 will see a release of a new solo recording featuring striking new arrangements of three of J.S. Bach’s Cello Suites.

Victorian Guitar Orchestra

Conducted by Ben Dix (member of the Melbourne Guitar Quartet) this orchestra sees a diverse mix of guitarists, young and old, combine to create a full and lustrous sound.

Nothing is more beautiful than a guitar, save perhaps two. – Fredric Chopin. With 18 guitarists, the dynamic and colour range available to this orchestra is a unique experience.

The Classical Guitar Practice Approach of A Very Busy Person!

To all of you, dear readers, who are playing or learning guitar, at whatever level, whilst studying, working, raising a family, looking after loved ones and/ or generally running around like the proverbial fly with a blue backside, I salute you!

Its not an easy thing to dedicate oneself to learning and developing a craft such as the classical guitar in amongst life. And I know that only too well first hand.

But just because something is challenging does not mean it is impossible. It means one has to think a little differently about what, where and how you practice, what that practice entails, calibrating expectations of yourself (and the self-induced pressure that that all too often entails), what outcomes you’re aiming to achiveve and of course a smattering of discipline and will.

Little Miss Busy - Penguin Books

Little Miss Busy – Penguin Books

I can go into the taking pressure off yourself, calibrating expectations, looking at what you want to achieve and so on in another post, but today I thought it may be helpful to share with you my general approach to practice now that my life has become rather busy. For newcomers here, I took on a fantastic and exciting role about 18 months ago which sees me with some longer hours and travel to some part of Australia on a very frequent basis.

I say “general” approach, as the specifics about what and how I practice can and will change depending on what I’m learning and if I have any concerts coming up. And the specifics will change for you too depending on your current level, what you’re aiming to achieve and so on. The general principles, however, apply just the same across the board,

My practice schedule, almost needless to say, has had to change to reflect my change in circumstance. And that’s fine – to be otherwise would be tantamount to stupidity and a sure fire way of giving myself a nervous breakdown. Which I’m sure you’ll agree is less than desirable!

So here are some of the key insights into the practice regime of a very busy person!


One of the key principles that remains the bedrock of my practice regimen and something I’ve spoken about frequently on the blog is CONSISTENCY.

We are what we repeatedly do, or something like that, to partially quote Aristotle. In practical application that means practicing or at the very least playing the guitar (and there’s an important difference I’ll come on to) more days of the week than not. Even if that means just 15 minutes with the guitar because I’m tired and my brain is practically hanging out of my left ear. Something is most definitely better than nothing, especially when there is the potential for a very busy period to be a number of days or longer.

Focus and Purpose

When I do sit down with the guitar at the moment, its typically for one 40 minute session per day,  5 to 6 days per week. And when I do sit down to practice I do so with a very specific purpose in mind.

In recent weeks, for example, I’ve been learning the Fugue from Bach’s Prelude, Fugue and Allegro BWV 998. Not a small work, and not an uncomplicated work (on the LMusA list in fact for when I get back on track with that).  I have been breaking this up into small bite sized chunks, tackling just 8 bars in a 30 – 40 minute sitting, really teasing out knits and tangles, tricky technical challenges, examining and rearranging fingerings, understanding what’s going on in the music, its direction and how I want it to sound. I might spend then 5 or 10 minutes slotting it back into context in the broader section or movement but keep the practice session focussed very much on that 8 bar section, knowing prior to starting that it’s that 8 bar section I want to work on and what I want to have achieved by the end of my session.

I’ll also either start or finish my practice session with a major scale and relative minor with full combination of right hand fingerings. I’ll make my way through the whole range of diatonic scales over a number of days and then go back to beginning.

Breathing Space

Focus and purpose goes out of the window though if I am feeling very tired with poor concentration ability. There’s no point in torturing myself! I have to be very tired though, and in this case I’ll still pick up the guitar and play through either a piece, part of a piece or a few scales just to keep the fingers moving.

I definitely don’t do this for more than one day, but giving myself permission one or two days a week to have some less involved practice time and just playing for the heck of it is as important as it is relaxing. Which is key when one is very busy!

Winners of the Signed Craig Ogden Albums!

Hi Folks just a very quick post for you today to tell you the names of our five very lucky winners of Craig Ogden’s new album, signed by the man himself!

Here you go:

(1) Brett Jarcevic, Australia
(2) Timothy Fuller, USA
(3) Malcolm Honeychurch, New Zealand
(4) James Huckson, Australia
(5) Kristian Brown, Australia
Well done all! And commiserations those that missed out this time!
And for everyone here’s a clip of Craig’s wonderful playing for you!
Check back in here in the next week as I’m currently in the process of formulating a new post for you on the subject of the practice schedule of a busy person! Hopefully will be of interest to some of you.

Your Chance To Win A Signed Copy of Craig Ogden’s New Album!

G’day folks!! It has been a while since the last blog post hasn’t it?! That has got to have been the longest hiatus since I started writing the blog four or so years ago (I think we skipped July altogether)! Anyhoo, on with the show. Today’s hiatus-breaking post is a cracker for you with a prize or five up for grabs for some lucky reader from a fab Aussie guitarist. So read on….. UK-based Australian classical guitar whizz, Craig Ogden, has recently released his latest recording, ‘Craig Ogden and Friends’ for the UK’s Classic FM. And it is riding high at the top of the classical charts over there in UK too no less!

Craig Ogden

Craig Ogden

Australian born guitarist Craig Ogden is one of the most exciting artists of his generation. Craig’s previous Classic FM albums; The Guitarist and Summertime both shot straight to number 1 in the UK classical chart. Craig’s latest CD ‘Craig Ogden and Friends’ released in June 2015 went straight to No. 1 in the classical chart (where I believe it still currently resides). It is a collection of beautiful tracks perfect for the summer months (and reminding of those summer months to come down here this way!!), consisting of a variety of pieces from some of the world’s greatest composers including Bach, Ravel and Albeniz, alongside modern pieces from the likes of Einaudi, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Craig has invited some of his very talented friends to perform with him. Not only are there solo guitar pieces, but string quintet tracks and some stunning duets with an array of different instruments and artists including Gareth Davies on flute, Natalie Clein on cello and Ji Liu on piano. Now the kind folks at Classic FM have offered readers of Classical Guitar n Stuff the chance to win one of five signed copies of the album!! Oooooh!! Exciting! For your chance to win a signed copy of this album, answer the question below; Who features with Craig on track No.2 of his new album, ‘Craig Ogden and Friends?’   A: Patricia Calnan B: Ji Lui C: Gareth Davies Email me your answers to along with your name and postal address for your chance to win. First five across the line win!! Competition closes Tuesday 11th August 2015 5pm AEST. Craig_Ogden_And_Friends_72dpi And, as you know, I always like to leave you with a bit of music. So here’s a clip of Craig and his friends recording the new album – great playing and looks like they had good fun