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Agustin BARRIOS (1885-1944)
Guitar Music – vol. 3
Caazapá-Aire Popolar Paraguayo (arr. McFadden) [3:15]; Don Perez Freire [3:13]; Medallon Antiguo [2:59]; Vals Tropical; [2:46]; Arabescos (Estudio No 4) [1:25]; Escala y Preludio [1:43]; Estudio Vals [1:34]; Estudio in A [2:00]; Estudio inconcluso [0:57]; Pais de Abanico [4:26]; Fabiniana [2:27]; Tango No 2 [3:21]; Tua imagem-Vals [3:35]; Leyenda de Espana [4:09]; Capricho Espanol [2:54];  Alegro Sinfonico {2:37]; Luz Mala [1:34]; Minuet en la [2:50]; Estilo Uruguayo [2:57]; Danza Guarani [1:34]; Tarantella (arr. McFadden) [3:35].
Jeffrey McFadden (guitar)
rec. 2-5 February 2006, St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. DDD
NAXOS 8.557807 [55:54]

The 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. 

During 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. 

Like 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 music. 

Despite 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.

One 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.

It 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. 

Barrios 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 and others. 

Having 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. 

The 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. 

Over 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 of copies. 

Having 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. 

That 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. 

Zane Turner 




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