If you love the guitar but you’ve had your fill of hard-rocking guitarists and folkie pretenders, you might want to check out classical guitarist Annalisa Ewald’s Live at The Factory Underground. The album is an unpretentious collection of varied pieces played with polish and panache in front of an appreciative if not downright rowdy crowd. As Ewald explains in the liner notes, in October of 2012 a group of musicians and their friends got together at The Factory Underground Studio in Norwalk, Connecticut. The studio had been transformed into a “night club for music lovers,” and three acts were scheduled to play. Ewald, the evening’s only soloist and classical artist, opened the show—a wise choice given the audience reaction.
For approximately half an hour, no doubt energized by the lively audience, Ewald played a set of 15 classical guitar pieces chosen, she tells us, from “Argentine tangos, Spanish folk music, Brazilian choros, and even a couple of ‘cousins’ from the Renaissance courts.” It is an eclectic sampling of the best in the musical repertoire available for the instrument.
Perhaps the only thing that’s missing is a transcription of the adagio from Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” a piece that no guitar recital (wherever it is held) should be without. It does open the possibility of some future recording of the whole concerto with the full orchestra in tow. Ewald plays with skill and taste. It would be a treat to hear her in all-out concert mode, this despite her protestations that the Factory Underground setting was “most unlike Carnegie Hall. Which was all to the good.” I guess I would just like to hear her play what I imagine is the most popular classical piece for the guitar in all its splendor.
She opens with “Soleares” a composition she calls “the mother of flamenco” in her notes to each of the tracks. This is followed by “Farucca,” a “light song” from the Galicia region of northwestern Spain “which speaks of sunny subjects like love and bawdy humor.” “Monotonia” is a composition particularly appropriate, she tells us, for the more informal setting. Its composer Rodrigo Riera was among those in 20th century Latin America who were celebrating popular guitar music. “Por Una Cabeza” is the first of the tangos on the album, the famous “La Cumparsita” comes later embedded in “Milonga.”
Ewald is joined by her 15-year-old student Caroline Golino for two Renaissance compositions: “Mr. Dowland’s Midnight,” originally written for solo lute, and “Les Buffons,” a variation on a familiar dance theme by W. Heckel, which she calls “a perfect pub piece.” There is a “Prelude” by Hector Villa-Lobos, giving a nod to the concert hall. She closes with two bonus tracks “Vals Venezolano No.1” and “No. 2” by Antonio Lauro, one of the first guitar composers, she explains, “to meld the European and Latin musical traditions.”
Annalisa Ewald may not have the name recognition that a guitarist like Sharon Isbin has, but if she produces a few more albums like this one, she’ll be right up there. Not only does Live at The Factory Underground show her joy in the music, it makes that joy contagious.