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Sep 26 2008

Naxos Complete Barris Recordings

Published by at 6:02 pm under CD Reviews

The guitar compositions of Agustin Barrios Mangore must be the most coveted of all classical guitarist composers. Following the composers death in San Salvador his music died with him, because there was only 10 pieces he ever bothered to publish. In answer to a question why did he not publish his works for guitar, Barrios is said to have replied something akin to; “What’s the point, hardly anyone else can play my music”. This, at that time, was true. One who certainly did have the technique was Andres Segovia, and the subject of Segovia’s antipathy for Barrios  is a complex issue which I will leave to a later post.

Barrios had the roots of his music steeped in Folklore, and indeed was quoted as saying; “One cannot be a guitarist if he has not bathed in the fountain of culture”. Though he did in fact compose in many styles, Baroque, Classical, Dance, many of his pieces were based upon the local, exotic rythyms, yet often tinged with lament. As in, happy, then sad emotions. Many times his works were autobiographical, detailed from his colourful life as a travelling musician.

Barrios was the first ever guitarist to make records, dating from around 1908, and it was from these that, for many years, were the only record of his works. In late ’70’s Robert Tucker contacted guitarist John Williams, with a view of interesting him to transcribe some Barrios music, and possibly record them. After 2 years, Williams agreed, and John Williams plays Barrios, 1977, was the first all Barrios record, the spontaneous beauty of the music leading to many other guitar recordings to follow. Now there have been many volumes of music published of this formerly forgotten genius of the guitar. Naxos music have had in progress the complete works of Barrios on CD, a project which entails different players recording the many volumes. So far, we are up to volume 3. It is this series which I would like to highlight here.

Volume 1 played by Antigoni Goni (Greece)

This is my personal favourite volume, or for that matter, one of my all time favourite CD’s. Goni is, on the whole, a slower than average player. She gives detailed study to every single phrase she plays,  with rich tonal sonorities. The CD opens with the sprightly Maxixe (pronounced Mash-e-shay) followed by the serene, virtuose tremolo “Sueno En La Floresta”, Goni’s technique proves more than adequate, but it is the intensity of the interpretations which stand this CD out from it’s peers.

Track listing can be found here; Barrios Volume 1 

If I had to single one track out it would be Vidalita. This innocent theme and variations, draws so much heartfelt emotion from the guitar it is profoundly moving, with superbly judged tonal contrasts. Other “lesser” known pieces such as Humouresque  and Pepita come across as beautiful, haunting compostions, almost like composer, artist, instrument in perfect harmoney.

Highly recommended, for those who missed it. For anyone who has the CD, I recommend putting it on right now! It’s one way to truly appreciate the life we lead.

Volume 2. Played by Enno Voorhorst.

Track listing here

Belgian guitarist Voorhorst takes up the project in volume 2, and he takes on Barrios longer works, although generally speaking, Barrios did not write many “long” pieces. Tremolo works “Cancion Del Hilandera (song of the thread spinner) and “The Last Song” (Una limonsna por el amor de Dios) and “Contemplation” are all given a fluent, impassioned reading. “El Sueno en la Mannequita” is the sleep of the little doll, inspired by the innocence of a young girl. The three movement “Cathederal” is Barrios arguably most important work, the prelude added later, as a Saudade (yearning) composed in Cuba during difficult period of his life.

Many of Barrios most deeply romantic works are here,  Invocation a mi Madre, Oracion, and Confession. The recital ends with Variations on Lagrima by Tarrega, possibly Barrios most complex work technically. Another superb, highly recommended recording. Interestingly, the link I gave above lists two “extra tracks”..This is a mystery to me, if you know what they are please let me know!

Volume 3 played by Jeffrey McFadden (Canada)

Track listing here.

McFadden takes up the reins with another impressive performence here. Although, this disc certainly is not Barrios at his best as a composer, I would admit. I’ve always been intrigued by Barrios “lesser” know pieces. Many compositions have been played time and again, yet there are some relatively fresh material, charming and evocative, which deserve to be heard. Example is the opening track, “Cazaapa”, which is fast becoming popular. The tango “Don Perez Freire” an example of a highly infectious main theme. If I have one minor quibble of Barrios music, it is often the quality of his trio, or middle sections, or third subject. This tango is classic example. A very catchy main these, good second subject, but then a patched up offering in the middle, devoid of inspiration, seemingly to “make up” the piece into a whole. The second offering in this genre “Tango no.2″ is in the same vein I feel. This type of flaw affected a number of early works, in my view. Though in later years, the composer showed more artistic maturity.

“Tua Imagem” (your image) is a charming waltz, “Pais de Abanico” (country of the fan) was inspired by the picture on a porcelain hand fan! “Medallon Antiguo” (the old medallion) was said to be worn by a singer whom Barrios was in love with at the time.

These pieces aside though, the rest of the disc contains very small studies, (though missing Las Asbejas and study in A, far and away Barrios best) a couple of little spirited dances, virtuoso Tarantella to conclude. Perhaps, on their own, comparitively thin material.

The playing is excellent, McFadden phrases beautufully in Don Perez Freire and Medallon Antiguo, but I only recommend this disc to Barrios affectionado’s. Of which there are many, in order to complete their collection. The works here though, do not represent Barrios at his best. I find it hard to believe so far, these  collections do not include pieces such as “Choro Da Saudade” or “Vals no. 3″. I can only speculate who the guitarist will be for volume 4, which is long overdue!

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Naxos Complete Barris Recordings”

  1. 60mooon 13 Feb 2009 at 4:55 am

    Hello Mark,

    Yes, I fell in love with Antigoni Goni’s playing from the very first listening. She’s one of the great expressionists, in my opinion.

    Why? Well, if you’re gifted with fluency and technique, the easy path to fame is to play at an elevated tempo. Works wonders. The brain of the listener can only assimilate and process so much over a short space of time. The flow of notes acts as an aural illusion, generally resulting in one being suitably impressed by the performance.

    But play pieces slower than normal – as Ms. Goni would. Here, one’s playing becomes starkly exposed to the discerning ear, where – literally – there’s no place to run, no place to hide. The player now has to rely heavily on expressive elements (vibrato, rubato and any other Italian word you wish), in order to paint pictures or tell a story that the brain by now is demanding.

    I feel Antigoni’s music is the perfect treat for the contemplative listener, all the while proving she is no mere craftsman, but rather (as you’ve described her), an Artist.


  2. Mark Antonyon 13 Feb 2009 at 11:58 am

    Thanks for your comment, Moo :) When listening to Goni playing guitar I am not aware of anything other than her sound, technical issues simply do not appear to exist. The sheer beauty in her phrasing takes over.

    I am amazed that after three CD’s of Barrion music there is still no inclusion of La Catedral, Choro Da Saudade or Una Limonsna El Amor De Dios, surely among Barrios most best known and mature writings….Interesting to see what is contained in volume 4, and who is to play.

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Mark Antony