ODYSSEY. Works by Turina, Koshkin, Cordero, Reis, Piazzolla, and others.
Alexander-Sergei Ramírez, guitar.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON B0002125-02 (F) {DDD} TT: 71:08

Music mostly to nap by. The program derives from a concept: guitar music from around the world, rather than just from Spain and Latin America, the two guitar powerhouses. Accordingly, we get music from every continent -- Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America, and Australia. It must have sounded like a good idea. However, effective guitar programs are rather tricky to put together. Let's face it: a lot of guitar music plows the same meditative furrow. Ramírez has, unfortunately, not sufficiently varied his selections. Many of the pieces, fine on their own, fade to beige in their present group. Furthermore, Ramírez -- although technically capable -- doesn't seem to understand the difficulty his program sets him. Consequently, large stretches of this CD simply go by, like the scenery in central Ohio.

One of course finds exceptions. Turina's Sevillana, the opening track, has become a guitar classic, deservedly so -- not only a tour de force for the fingers, but an exciting panoply of color and rhythm. All the heat dissipates with the next cut, Carlo Domeniconi's Koyunbaba suite, inspired by Turkish music. I can't believe Turkish music is as bland as this work makes it out. With the third track, Nikita Koshkin's Merlin's Dream, interest picks up again, mainly because of the unusual guitar writing, invoking, among other things, the balalaika. Nevertheless, we return quickly to the predictable. One of the more ambitious works, AlejandroAllauca's Koribeni No. 2, begins with musique concrète effects evoking jungle downpours, screeching birds, and jungle cats. This sort of thing goes on for a couple of minutes, and while you marvel at the composer's deep understanding of the guitar and the player's skill at realizing these effects, musically it all adds up to less than Dilermando Reis's "Si ela perguntar," which aims only to charm. My favorite cut has to be a transcription of Piazzolla's Verano Porteño, a tango fiery and nostalgic by turns, with more than its share of surprises.

Despite the awards and acclaim collected by Ramírez, I'm not all that fond of him as a musician. He strikes me as good, but not exceptional. The technique, professional quality without a doubt, doesn't outstrip other guitarists, nor does it approach the super-virtuosi Ricardo Cobo and Pepe Romero. There's some, although not a lot of noise on the fret board for one thing. Furthermore, Ramírez occasionally drops the musical thread, as if he hasn't completely focused. He hasn't got Segovia's flair for meditation or Bream's wide palette and high musicality. Despite the Turina and the Piazzolla, I'd give this one a miss.

S.G.S. (April 2005)