Album Review – Un Viaje Mistico by Daniel Nistico

Frequent readers of the blog will most likely be aware of the young, rising Melburnian talent that is Daniel Nistico. If not, or if you’re new to these parts, check out these posts on Mr Nistico:

Well, Daniel has been in the recording studio recently recording his debut album (financed all through a Pledge Music project). And what a debut recording it is. I promise, cross my heart, hope to die and all that, dear reader, that I’m not just saying that because I know the chap – this is a truly fantastic recording and has been playing on heavy rotation here at Classical Guitar n Stuff Towers for the last few weeks.  Dan Nistico_July2013

First up, the playing right across the album is just superb – yes, Daniel’s weapon of choice is a rather tasty Greg Smallman guitar, but he has the talent (and more) to match a guitar of this calibre. His tone is personally very inspirational for me, and I urge you to take a listen to understand what a good clear, full, fat tone without the slightest element of schmaltz creeping in really sounds like.

Daniel has put together a fantastic programme, with some well-known favourites on there as well as some lesser known material – a good balance between the two in fact, in my opinion.

The album opens with some cracking Barrios – the Mazurka Appassionata – and a simply beautiful rendition of the full Le Catedral suite. The fifth track on the album is the absolute stand-out for me and this is Daniel’s own transcription and interpretation of Sevilla by Albeniz – I love this!! Yes, it’s a well-worn favourite, but Daniel’s interpretation brings a quality that I’ve not heard in many recordings. It’s rather laid-back, unhurried, unfussy and the lines, voices and phrasing within the music are so very clear. I’m not sure of Daniel’s approach to this piece, but it feels almost like a guitarist’s interpretation of a pianist’s interpretation of guitar music. I love it! I may even be so bold as to say this is currently my favourite recorded version of Sevilla. Nice work Daniel!

Continuing on with the Spanish flavour, but with a slightly more contemporary feel is the Collectici Intim suite by Vicente Asenci (written in 1965), showcasing Daniel’s virtuosic flair as well his gorgeous rounded tone, and fantastic sense of phrasing (check out in particular IV La Gaubanca).

Moving away from Spain, Daniel brings us home to Australia with Phillip Houghton’s Kinkachoo I Love You. This lovely, mellow piece is a lovely choice in the programme to follow the rapid fire final movement of the Asenci suite.

The album is then rounded out with two absolutely stunning pieces (two that I’ll admit I’d not heard of prior to listening to this recording) and come joint second favourite for me after Sevilla. These pieces are Sonatina….after an enchantress by American composer John Anthony Lennon and the exquisite This morning in Omagh the sun rose again by William Lovelady. This piece was written as a tribute to the 29 people that lost their lives and 220 that were injured in the 1998 car-bombing in Omagh, Northern Ireland. Daniel’s suitably impassioned playing on this piece is very sensitive to the inspiration for this piece and is quite simply beautiful. Actually on reflection, this one is joint favourite for me alongside Sevilla. I’ve just had the privilege this evening (I’m writing this on Sunday night) of having just seen Daniel perform this live this evening in Melbourne. Breathtaking…….

This album is a must if you’re a lover of guitar music, and looking to broaden your horizons with some newer or little-heard repertoire. Hop onto Daniel’s website for details of how to get your mitts on your own copy of his album. It’s a must!!

And watch this space for a Q&A with Daniel before he heads off Stateside to continue his studies and grow his career at the Eastman School of Music.


What guitar does Milos play?

A little piece today on the weapon of choice of the marvelous Milos.

Soundhole and rosette of a Greg Smallman guitar
Soundhole and rosette of a Greg Smallman guitar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This axe that the Montenegrin sensation wields on his two recordings to date and countless concert dates is none other than a 2007 Greg Smallman.

An excellent choice of instrument with a serious pedigree of fine players also wielding the mighty Smallman. Apparently this is not his guitar, however, with this instrument being lent to him by a couple of kind benefactors (Paul and Jenny Gillham). Perhaps a seemingly strange arrangement, but something that is reasonably common to a fashion with violinists*– who can afford a Guarneri del Gesu or a Stradivarius?! (* That, or they have them on a ridiculous hire-purchase kind of arrangement which means they can never really afford them unless they make serious money as the instruments appreciate in value far more than the musician can ever pay it back.)

OK, so the Smallman isn’t quite in the price league of an 18th century Cremonan violin, but when you consider you need to part with the best part of AUD$30,000 (roughly US$30,500) to have one of these fine instruments in your possession, that and Milos in the early days of his career, the arrangement is actually a pretty good deal for the musician. Although the way Milos is tracking at the moment, I have no doubt he’ll be able to afford one of his very own in no time at all!

Here the man himself playing Recuerdos de la Alhambra on the 2007 Smallman:

Who else plays a Smallman?

A number of well-renowned players also play Smallman guitars, including John Williams, Carlos Bonell, Xuefei Yang, Stepan Rak, Timothy Kain, Ben Verderey, David Tannenbaum and Thibault Cauvin to name but a few.

So who is Greg Smallman?

Greg Smallman is arguably one of the most well-respected and pioneering of the Australian guitar builders. Greg started building guitars back in the early 1970s, following a traditional Fleta model. At that time Australian musicians, instruments, instrument makers and their ilk were largely unknown to the wider world, and frankly not greatly well-respected.

To combat this Greg Smallman realised, much to our benefit, that he’d have to do something a little different with his guitars. So in 1980 Greg developed his now famous balsa and carbon fibre lattice bracing system with a paper-thin soundboard. These guitars have an incredible volume, whilst maintaining clarity of tone – as we can tell from Milos’ recordings.

We can also tell this from the recordings of one of Greg Smallman’s early customers and collaborators in developing his designs – another great Australian, John Williams.

John Williams playing his Smallman in 2005
John Williams playing his Smallman in 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Greg Smallman’s development of the lattice braced system, and undoubtedly the patronage of John Williams, created a springboard for phenomenal growth in Australian guitar-building.

One of the most recognizable features of Greg Smallman guitars (or Smallman and Sons Damon and Kym, to give the guitars their full and correct label title) is an armrest in the form of a small strip of wood on the bass side of the guitar. This prevents the guitarist’s arm stopping the vibrations moving through soundboard and so getting maximum response from the instrument.

How are these guitars built?

I’m not going to try to explain the full technical details of the guitars here, but check out this video to take a look inside a Smallman guitar: 

And check out Damian Lodge, another Australian builder, give a bit of a run-down on lattice braced guitar construction: