In his latest solo album, Nuevo Mundo, guitarist Morgan Szymanski presents a selection of mostly new music, written for him by a group of composers with whom it is audibly apparent he has developed a natural rapport. Some of the composers will be familiar from Szymanski’s previous albums, namely Alec Roth, Simone Iannarelli, Julio César Oliva and Stephen McNeff, but here we are also introduced to Paul Coles. This adds to the diversity of writing styles which are juxtaposed effectively and suit the performer’s playing style and personality, contributing to a very well-rounded programme. One of the hallmarks of Szymanski’s albums (this being his 3rd solo album and 5th overall released on his Sarabande label), is the care and artistry that accompanies each release, and this album is no exception.
The album opens with music by the great Paraguayan, Agustín Barrios Mangoré. Whilst most of you will know the Vals Op. 8, No. 4 and Maxixe, they are played here with great affection and bewitching elegance, providing an attractive opener, with the familiar leading to the newer pieces, the first by Paul Coles. This composer has written some very interesting guitar music over the years, and treats us to a deliciously songful piece with his Fantasia Tropical. The music exudes a delicate Carribean charm, and when played with such lightness of touch and deft rhythmic inflections as it is here, it cannot help but bring a smile to your face.
In his previous album, Estampas de Mexico, Szymanski extensively explored the music of Julio César Oliva, and here we are treated to four Images of Mexico, written in the composer’s typical understated style. This is music that eschews overt nationalist gestures, having a stronger poetic and lyrical dimension, with something in common with Manuel Ponce. The music has a beguiling simplicity, to which Szymanski is perfectly attuned, allowing the music to flow naturally as it paints vivid images of Mexico following the passage of the sun. We visit Mexico City, the mountains of Tepoztlán, and the beaches of Ensenada and Los Cabos and if this is not clear enough for you I urge you to view Szymanski’s promotional video on his website (well worth viewing in any case).
This is followed by three titled pieces by Simone Iannerrelli, another composer who specialises in music for the guitar, for which he writes most effectively. The colouristic effects in three of the twelve pieces that make up his suite, Italian Coffee, are quite different to the preceding composers, though the style remains relaxed. These are piquant songs without words, played with disarming understatement. It’s a shame that not all real coffee tastes this good!
There is little doubt that the guitar music written by Alec Roth for Szymanski has been of a consistently high standard, with many notable achievements across the genres including solo, chamber, song and concerto. Alec Roth’s contribution to this album should not be judged by its length, as the figures leap across the strings in the delightful Mexican Jumping Bean for an event-packed 1’50. This was evidently a birthday present from the composer and it is a piece of musical fun which the dedicatee plays here with great relish.
The album ends with music by Stephen McNeff, which introduces some musical and alcoholic intoxication to this eventful album. It seems that when he last visited Mexico, the composer was introduced by a mutual friend to the custom of drinking tequila, sangrita and beer as a chaser. The lethal combination is also known as the Tres Angelitos Mexicanos but the effect is distilled into a virtuoso three-movement suite, each covering the three components. These are very well-written pieces for the guitar which have a wide range of dynamic and expressive effects delivered with humour and virtuosity by Szymanski, which will no doubt work well when played live.
Nuevo Mundo is another artistic triumph for Morgan Szymanski where he achieves a fine balance between spontaneity and attention to detail. The music selected is very enjoyable and it all adds up to a highly recommendable album.