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Matt Palmer, solo guitar. Un tiempo fue Italica famosoa: music by Joaquin Rodrigo, Joaquin Turina, Sergei Rudnev, Manuel Ponce, Francisco Tarrega, Mauro Giuliani, and Štepán Rak. ©2010 Matt Palmer, thirteen tracks on CD, 52:37, available from the artist's website: http://www.mattpalmerguitar.com/New_CD.html (where samples may be heard).
Now comes an unlikely Fall Branch, Tennessee, native with a classical guitar CD program punctuated by unusual, demanding, and not-often-heard guitar works mixed in with a few old chestnuts and some main-line staples. The more familiar program pieces might be less interesting were it not for a heroically secure virtuoso technique, widely varied skills, and the genuinely weird pieces arrayed around them. Amid a somewhat familiar landscape Matt Palmer’s fresh canvas and the big palette of guitar maker Kolya Panhuyzan give pause; this is not just another fast-fingered kid. There are some significant things to consider here.
First, that Tennessee thing; there are plenty of excellent guitar “pickers” who’ve called the Volunteer State their home. A vast majority of them sought fame in the folk, country, and rock styles and the famous Memphis blues sound from Beale Street. Yet here is a guy rockin' serious works from the Czech Republic, Spain, and Russia — a "classical guitarist" of all things — and he seems to know what he’s doing.
This same guy grew up playing rock, began formal musical studies at age 20 (20!) with Bill Yelverton at Middle Tennessee State University, and later worked with Doug James at Appalachian State University. Apparently a quick learner, he went on to perform for and study with ten big shots of the guitar world, won a bunch of competitions, and was a finalist at the Internationales Pfingstseminar in Koblenz. (I’m not real sure about that last one, but it looks impressive.)
So here is the debut recording: the sonata by Turina, two preludes and a character piece by Tarrega, "The Rose" by Giuliani, and Ponce’s evergreen "Sonatina merdional" — all stock repertoire — mixed in with Sergei Rudnev’s heavily-layered, multi-faceted "The Old Lime Tree," the CD's virtuoso title work by Joaquin Rodrigo, and a positively nuclear "Sonata Mongoliana" by Štepán Rak, which all by itself will send our budding young virtuosos back to the showers in search of some new way to distinguish themselves from the pack.
And then there’s darkness; the CD cover is dark, the opening title work by Rodrigo is dark, and the playing in general often has a monochromatic cast along the dark edge of the spectrum. This might suggest a depressing aura, yet a sense of celebration, a sustained rock-solid technique, and flashes of brilliance keep this program cycling in the ear. Artistic brooding is paired with an often playful sense of "controlled"freedom. Through it all there is a performance quality that denies the player ever practiced; so precise is every gesture, so deliberate and secure is each complex figure, and so steady and unwavering is the speed, that there is a general impression Palmer was simply beamed fully formed to Earth on a blue shaft of light and started playing a guitar this way. And if we say, for the moment, that is not true, then he certainly is a highly-stylized constructionist who takes the architects’ drawings and renders his interpretation after a deliberate period of intense yet reflective study. In the end his product comes out with stunning precision and unwavering accuracy enclosed in a huge dynamic envelope — each time.
Funny how the top tier is redefined and becomes less crowded when a guy like this comes along....