Adam Palma’s ‘Second Life’ may be better than his first
Adam Palma, Polish musician, resides in Manchester, England, where he teaches music at the Salford University. In 2019 he surprised the music world with rendition of the piano music of Frederic Chopin arranged for acoustic guitar and performed solo.
It was the first such attempt and a glorious one. His record “Adam Palma Meets Chopin” received enthusiastic reviews and the guitarist appeared on covers of several music magazines in many European countries. His virtuoso playing was praised by Al DiMeola, considered the greatest living guitarist in the world (both musicians often perform together). And there is no coincidence DiMeola loved Palma’s Chopin – both guitarist use similar technique, rare and demanding.
They play neither classical, nor the popular fingerpicking style. They use guitar pics (!) achieving an amazing speed and flexibility. We know about DiMeola and his masterpieces, from Elegant Gypsy and Casino, to the legendary nights in San Francisco: Friday (1981) and Saturday (2022). And how about Adam Palma? What is he up to these days?
First of all, he almost fell victim of pandemic. After several weeks in a coma, he didn’t even know, if he will ever play the guitar again. But he recovered quickly. While still in bed, he experienced vivid musical memories from his childhood.
So when he was finally ready to think about a new project, the repertoire was almost ready. And so was a brand new idea about his music – Adam Palma conceived an album for acoustic guitar and a string orchestra. He arranged the music and invited Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio to record it. It is a renown ensemble founded in 1968 and conducted by Agnieszka Duczmal, praised – among other achievements – for the first world recording of Josef Koffler’s transcription of Bach’s Goldberg Variations for chamber orchestra. As it happened the meeting of guitar virtuoso and a string section turned out to be a marriage made in heaven. What marks this effort is perfectionism – but not without a true romantic heart.
The repertoire here is divided in three parts. Adam Palma’s own compositions make up an impressive contribution. His eponymous piece – in a way autobiographical – may be the most personal, but so is his lovely piece My Polish Heart. Do we hear an echo of Chick Corea’s My Spanish Heart here? Not in the music, just in the title. One of my favorite numbers is Palma’s Into Battle, dynamic, with a very cinematic flair. Another part of the album’s repertoire comprises of traditional Polish tunes and popular music standards. Among these a true sensation is The Oath.
Commonly known as a patriotic song, here unveils its melodic beauty in the instrumental treatment. An equal favorite of mine is Run Away My Heart by Seweryn Krajewski, one of the most popular numbers from a Polish television series, and a melody of incomparable beauty. Originally written for an acoustic guitar, here it shines enhanced by a string arrangement. Adam Palma’s articulation is flawless.
Nevertheless, the most important part of this recording may be another set of compositions by Frederic Chopin. The guitarist returns to his favorite composer with some new ideas for the solo-ensemble interaction. He choses pieces as difficult as the famous “Revolutionary Etude” (C minor, Op. 10. No. 12). Adam Palma explains: “While listening to this piece as a young boy, I wondered how it was possible to play so quickly, but even then my attention was drawn to the beautiful and unusual chord sequences therein. Fryderyk wrote this composition in a frenzy after learning about the fall of the November Uprising.
I, almost 200 years later, arranged it for acoustic guitar and string orchestra in a frenzy that no one had ever recorded it for such an ensemble before”. Another lovely idea is Chopin Medley, combining fragments of Ballade in F minor, Op. 52 and Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 35. The adventurous orchestration makes you wonder, why Chopin himself composed so little for orchestra, or piano and orchestra – the guitar here carries it further up.
Playing with the likes of Tommy Emmanuel and Biréli Lagrène our Polish virtuoso reached the world’s top of acoustic guitar mastery. But Adam Palma is not just a brilliant musician. He is very conscious about each and every step he takes in his musical career, not only surprising his listeners, but surprising himself as well.
Adam Palma never looks back. Always searching for new challenges, he boldly performed Chopin’s music for solo acoustic guitar. Now he comes back with his guitar surrounded by the string section. Together the soloist and the orchestra sound both romantic and contemporary, they also sound surprising, as we have never heard anything like it before. It’s too early to ask what may come next. This is the time to listen and enjoy the music where perfection meets beauty.
This new artistic triumph of Adam Palma is also so enjoyable you will not put this record aside too soon. Polish guitar virtuoso got his “second life” and he uses it well.