history of classical instrumentalists abounds in eccentric and
colourful characters. Among classical guitarist no more apt
example of the latter could be found than Agustín Pio Barrios.
a particular period of his career Barrios advertised himself
as ‘The Paganini of the guitar from the forests of Paraguay’. For the first part of his concerts he donned Indian headdress and
regalia. The second part was played in traditional European
evening wear. Highlighting his partly Indian ancestry, Barrios
added to his own name that of ‘Mangoré’, a legendary Guarani
chief. However, according to an acquaintance, by 1936, both
the headdress and ‘Mangoré’ had been abandoned.
many great instrumentalist-composers, after his death his compositions
fell into obscurity. He rarely played a piece of music the
same way twice, and was not fastidious in committing his work
to paper. Both these factors contributed to his later obscurity.
He was the first guitarist to make recordings from 1909 and
these left a legacy of information from which a later generation
of aficionados could, in part, effect a renaissance of Barrios’s
his prodigious output a survey of printed music catalogues from
four decades ago would reveal only a handful of original Barrios
compositions. Similarly recordings of original compositions
be Barrios were relatively rare.
of the very first guitarists to embrace Barrios the composer
in the recording studio was the great Spanish master Jose Luis
Gonzalez (1932-1998). During an Australian teaching/concertising
tenure from 1962 to 1966, Gonzalez recorded Preludio and
Danza Paraguaya (CBS BR 235068) and the Medallon
Antiguo (BR 235157). Laurindo Almeida’s recording Sueno
(Capitol T 2345), from the same era, included Waltz Op.
8 No. 4. Interestingly, although a contemporary, Segovia appears to have ignored the works of Barrios including them in neither
his concerts nor his discography. Despite having been personally
given a manuscript of La Catedral by Barrios, Segovia avoided any potential endorsement of a competitor and never played
this beautiful composition in public.
was not until the 1970s that a real renaissance of Barrios’s
music occurred and entire recordings of his works appeared by
guitarists such as John Williams. Original recordings by Barrios
provided a valuable source from which to access his original
compositions and has contributed to making them available in
printed form for classical guitarists at large.
spent much of his early career playing in cinemas, cafes, theatres
and private functions. To achieve his objective of pleasing
the audience, he composed many original works based on the folk
music and dances of his native country. These include the maxixe,
milonga, pericon, polka, cueca and
zamba. He also composed a valuable corpus of studies
for guitar. These are often musically beguiling and always technically
challenging. Both categories of composition are represented
on this review disc which is McFadden’s third Naxos-Barrios
CD. What are not represented are the arrangements and transcriptions
he made of music by Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Donizetti, Mendelssohn
first heard Medallon Antiguo (3) some time ago, a new
awareness of the context in which it was composed heightened
my appreciation of the review version. Medallon Antiguo (Old
Medallion) was apparently a piece of jewellery worn by an opera
singer from Buenos Aires
with whom Barrios had fallen in love. Its first three notes
are said to come from a Pergolesi song that she sang.
playing on the review disc is probably best described as impeccable,
and technically inspiring. Medallon Antiguo (3) is executed
with a warmth and passion of which Barrios would have approved,
given his inspiration for the composition. The studies (5, 6,
7, 9) reflect not only technical mastery, but also an insight
into how the composer mastered the balance between technical
development and musical content. A fine instrument by R. de
Miranda, Milan, Italy augments McFadden’s
warm and full tone.
the past two decades McFadden has established himself as the
leading Canadian guitarist of his generation. His list of achievements
is long including a silver medal in the 1992 Guitar Foundation
of America Competition. He has the distinction of being the
first to record in the current Naxos Laureate Series. This
debut recording, released worldwide, has sold tens of thousands
listened to countless different guitarist play the music of
Barrios and Antonio Lauro, Alirio Diaz remains the standard
of reference for these composers. This music is often technically
demanding but Diaz appears to have a grasp of intrinsic cultural
components of the music, which often escape even the most technically
deft performer. One should not exclude outstanding renditions
by other South American guitarists but Diaz remains supreme
in music from the pen of these composers.
said the current offering by Jeffrey McFadden is strong motivation
to seek out his earlier two Barrios volumes which if anything
akin to the review disc are guaranteed to please.