A Review of Kevin Gallagher's new Naxos Release
"Guitar Recital" CD 8.554444
Kevin Gallagher is one of those guitar slingers, those contest participants who should not compete. It seems to me, beneath him when his statement needs no bolstering.
Having said that I must say this; he has taken first prize in the world's most prestigious ones. It is understandable that one should compete, instant notoriety and gigs.
Kevin's performances of Early music and Baroque are so seasoned and right that they emanate from an old soul. For such a young player, to be so restrained and uninterested in glowing in mindless technical expose seems well beyond his years.
I feel intimate with this CD. First of all Kevin's recording guitar is a Greg Byers, a guitar that I have owned since 1990.
Before I go on to other beautiful aspects of this recording Greg Byers' guitar should be noted. I think it is absolutely the right choice for this recording.
The Byers is dead even as well as being very clear. It has a bell-like tone to the trebles. The bass is tight and even from tone to tone so the overall balance can be dialed in by the player. There are no spots in the tonal range to be considered too "hot" or "cold." It's the perfect guitar for this kind of music but in spruce is unforgiving anyone not fully involved in playing it.
This plays into Kevin's great attention to contrapuntal detail. This especially comes out in the Bach Prelude Fugue and Allegro BWV998 and Weiss' Prelude, Courante and Alternatum. There is no spot on the CD that isn't carefully voiced in polyphonic texture. Being that I understand the Byers guitar only elicits more respect for Kevin. His vision is complete from his transcriptions to the instrument he has chosen which is an unforgiving one. I'm listening to this guitar right now and it is a marvelous sound, powerful and colorful.
I am not a great scholar on Baroque music therefore I am not an authority on ornamentation. Prefaced by this fact, I say that Kevin's ornamentation is the most varied and highly stylized. Taking slurs, in some cases, crossed strings and on the Byer guitar is especially lustrous.
The beauty of Kevin's restrained passion for this music is breathtaking. I can really tell how much he loves this music and has given himself totally to the correct interpretation of "historic passion." This CD has sublime strength of commitment. It is spiritual in a way that no Early music CDs I've encountered has.
Naxos guitar CDs are always so lustrous in their sound, they are frequently (or maybe always, I haven't heard all) recorded in St. John Chrysostom Church in Canada. This lends itself so much to the intimacy of this collection in the room ambiance. With my experience of Byers' guitar, I can say that this is a flat recording of nothing more than the instrument.
I have listened to this CD countless times and before when Kevin sent me a cassette version before the release. I've lived with this music for around a year and I can't say that any one piece stands out from another. From Luys de Narvaez to Bach all of the music on the CD is seamlessly assembled into a wonderful experience of music and performance. I guess the most thrilling moments are in the Bach Prelude, Fugue and Allegro BWV998. Itıs the music.
I also particularly like Santiago de Murcia's (1685-1732) Payssanos. It is completely bare and exposed. The clarity of expression is held within this bareness and exposure at a slow and graceful tempo. It is heartbreaking and mournfully beautiful.
The slow pieces on this CD, as a whole, are played so beautifully they are almost the highlight. I know how hard it is to play with such exposure and bareness that my admiration for Kevin is bolstered by his ability to hold so much attention by such soulful and spiritual playing. John Dowland's Lachrimae Pavan and Francesco da Milano's La compagna are also beautifully done. Stunning is Sylvius Weiss' Alternatum. There is great peace and strength in this performance.
The Allegro from Bach's BWV998 and the Courante from the Weiss are example of Kevin's mastery of cascading contrapuntal playing in fast tempos. The voices are so clearly separated and lovingly detailed that it is breathtaking.
Kevin is one of the leading young performers of Early and Baroque music and this CD highlights this fact perfectly.
This CD is an experience of spiritual gravity. Kevin is so young and sounding like such an old musical soul I look forward to him growing even further in his vision.
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