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Friday, December 01, 2006

Agustin Barrios, Paraguayan guitarist and composer, 1885 - 1944

“Dedication to the Guitar”

Tupa, the Supreme Spirit and protector of my race, found me one day in the middle of a verdant copse wrapt in admiration whilst contemplating nature. And said to me: ‘Take this mystery box and unmask its secrets.’ And locking up in it all the singing birds, left it in my hands. Obeying the orders of Tupa I took the box and placing it close to my chest, I embraced it and spent many moons at the side of a spring. And one night Jacy, painted in liquid crystal, feeling the sadness of my Indian soul, gave me six silver rays of light so that with them I could unmask the secrets of the box. And the miracle occurred: from the depths of the mysterious box there emerged a marvellous symphony of all the virgin voices of our America.” -- Barrios, spoken at a concert in Brazil

The first classical guitar album I bought, I think it was in 1990 (on cassette!), was a collection of Spanish guitar music performed by the great Australian musician and non-film-composer John Williams. The other day I came across his recording of Latin-American Guitar Music by Barrios and Ponce, and I’ve been digging it with spades, as the saying doesn’t go.

The 14 Barrios pieces range from Baroque-style fugues and gavottes to classical-style minuets to Romantic Spanish-style extravaganzas. He utilizes the whole guitar, gorgeous tremolo melodies with arpeggiated accompaniments, piquant chording, reedy bass runs, fluty trebles, sometimes hitting the guitar like a drum while fingering chords in the left hand, making it a harmonic-percussion instrument; Williams, as expected, brings the panoply of colors. Two of the pieces lasting seven minutes are carried off without angst or drama but with rhythmic vim, copious melody, and at times with a refreshing freedom of conception, the music moving across registers and timbres like a landscape changes on a journey. The disc’s one piece by Barrios’ contemporary the Mexican composer Manuel Ponce is a 24-minute theme-and-variations tour de force.

While the Ponce seems lovely I have not yet dug into it as much. The Barrios, though -- enrapturing.
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