By Blair Jackson
The nimble and expressive Colombian classical guitarist Irene Gómez has always played a diverse repertoire, as befits a musician whose varied guitar education included programs in her native country, in France, and at Juilliard in New York, where she studied with Sharon Isbin. Her last album, 2010’s excellent Estudios y fantasias para guitarra, ranged from pieces by early guitar masters Fernando Sor and Matteo Carcassi to modern more composers like Heitor Villa-Lobos and Leo Brouwer.
Gómez’s latest, Songs of My Life, is her most eclectic collection yet, leaning heavily, though not exclusively, on 20th-century songwriters, rather than composers of instrumental music: John Lennon and Paul McCartney (“Yesterday,” “Michelle,” and “Here, There and Everywhere”), Belgian Jacques Brel (“Ne me quitte pas”), Argentine Carlos Gardel (“Volver”), and French singer Barbara (“Göttingen”). Add in Colombian Rafael Campo Vives (“Fantasia caribe sobre el tema ‘La gota fria’”) and 19th-century Austrian composer Franz Schubert (piano pieces “Ständchen” and “Die Post”), and you’ve got a program overflowing with sumptuous melodies played with tremendous feeling and sensitivity on Gómez’s luminous-sounding 1992 Contreras guitar.
Songs of My Life/Canciones de mi Vida
Don’t let the appearance of so many well-known pop songs fool you into thinking these are just simple tunes. Each becomes a splendid showcase for Gómez’s fingerpicking artistry because she has chosen to play the imaginative interpretations from some of classical guitar’s greatest arrangers, including J.K. Mertz (the Schubert pieces), Tōru Takemitsu (Beatles songs), and Roland Dyens (Brel and Barbara). “To perform these arrangements was a surprising challenge,” Gómez writes in the liner notes, noting it was challenging “to unify and interpret recognized melodies combined with mysterious and complex harmonies. But in the end, the guitar, the instrument of all times and all genres, allowed this union.”
Of the arrangers mentioned above, Dyens’ take on Brel’s 1959 torch ballad is by far the most expansive and deviates the furthest from the original source, as it dips in and out of passages featuring harmonics and slightly dissonant tremolo-like figures. Strange but cool! I also have to single out the “Fantasia Caribe,” the lone Latin piece here, for Gómez’s adroit navigation of that work’s mood and tempo changes, which move from dance-style folk rhythms to bits of blues and lyrical moments.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.