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You could find two no different expressions of modern guitar playing than what is seen in Denis Azabagic's Naxos disc and the duo disc entitled Macedonian Blues
. Both recordings offer phenomenal playing and brilliant artistry but listening to them reach these heights is like listening to Marxists argue with Hayekians. They both seek an ideal, but they come at it from opposite ends of the spectrum.
Azabagic wins competitions. From the bio, one can see that he's won every competition under the sun (GFA, Stotsenberg, Tarrega, Guerrero?etc.). In fact, he won the right to record this disc by winning the GFA Competition in '98. Based on that fact alone, one can gather that his playing is clean, precise and musical (if controlled) and the CD does not disappoint. The recording features familiar works by Torroba, Barrios, and Ponce - all performed admirably. They suffer, though, from their familiarity and the sense one gets that these performances were geared for the ears of judges. That said, the disc finishes with some brilliant performances of less familiar works.
Without a doubt, Azabagic's performance of the Minueto from the Sonata
by Antonio Jose is the best example of his considerable abilities as an interpreter. Having played the work as a whole and heard it many times, I have always felt the second movement reads like the product of a composing mind unfamiliar with the guitar. Azabagic, though, with his slow tempo (painfully slow, but wonderfully so) and insightful phrasing repairs this musical wreck and makes it a delight.
The duo disc Macedonian Blues
featuring Goran Ivanovic and Fareed Haque has little in common with the Azabagic CD. The playing is dirty, the music is little more than tunes, the titles of the works are questionable (Romantico, Saddest of All, Ethno Dance?) and it's the only CD I have on constant repeat. I love its reckless speed and energy. Gajdarsko Oro
and Kalajdzisko Oro
will leap out of your headphones and get your heart chasing (and you will start wondering where you can get the arrangements). The recording only seems to falter in the slower tracks, like Macedonian Girl, which seem self-indulgent and less effective when silences are broken by miss-fretted notes (something which can be forgiven in the brisker works). That is not to say that they the slow works are bad tunes, they are not. The problem is that when they go for difficult passages that test their technical limits as well as the limits of their instruments in the context of a slow work their successes and failures are laid bare.
But, both CDs suffer and profit from a lack of what the other has. The rough spots in Macedonian Blues
are as equally as troublesome as the lack of aggression in works like the Final
from the Sonata
by Antonio Jose as performed by Azabagic. By the same token, though, the passionate, devil-may-care expression of Macedonian Blues is no greater a feat than the pristine perfection of each and every interpretation on Azabagic's recording. The recordings are a testament to the broad range of expression available on disc for guitar, a wonderful diversity that we are blessed to be a part of.