RECORD OF MONTH
Agustín BARRIOS (Mangore) (1885-1944)
Confesión: La Catedral [7:33]; Estilo Uruguayo [3:39]; Aire de Zamba [2:48]; Vals, op 8 no 3 [4:13]; Danza Paraguaya no.1 [2:28]; Sargento Cabral (zamba) [2:19]; Confesión (romanza) [4:46]; Preludio, op.5 no.1 [3:55]; Choro da Saudade [5:11]; Leyenda de España [6:17]; Las Abejas [2:26]; Oración por Todos [2:31]; El Sueño de la Muñequita [2:45]; Vals de Primavera [5:27]; La Samaritana [4:02]; Mazurca Apasionada [5:32]; Cueca [3:12];Villancico de Navidad [2:50]; Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios [3:24]
Alexander-Sergei Ramírez (guitar)
rec. March 2000, Meinerzhagen, Stadthalle. DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 289 471 532-2 [75:19]
In the annals of classical guitar, Agustín Pio Barrios (Mangore) is now almost as famous as Andrés Segovia. This is remarkable because at the time of his death in 1944, Barrios was far from famous even in his native Paraguay, and virtually unknown outside South America. The irony of this is that despite Segovia knowing him, and having access to scores of his music, he did nothing to promote this genius of the guitar. At a time when the guitar had little repertory and Segovia was pursuing original compositions with alacrity, he never recorded any of Barrios’s music. The reasons for Segovia’s seeming indifference to Barrios is a matter of conjecture, but one school of thought is that he perceived Barrios as competition and a threat, going out of his way to ensure that he remained in obscurity.
Two decades after the death of Barrios, another genius of the guitar, Jose Luis Gonzalez Julia (1932-1998) recorded several of his pieces, including Aire de Zamba, Danza Paraguaya, Preludio Op.5 No.1 and Medallion Antiguo. It may have been the very first time they were recorded since the death of Barrios. Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida recorded Vals de Concerto Op. 8 No. 4 around the same time and a recording by Alirio Diaz in the early 1970s also contained pieces by Barrios.
The real renaissance came in 1977 when guitarist John Williams recorded an entire disc devoted to the music of Barrios. Even today, with many recordings of Barrios available, the early recordings by Jose Luis Gonzalez remain visionary and outstanding interpretations. To date no one has plumbed the depths or unravelled the Bachian shroud in which Barrios enveloped his Preludio in G minor, Op. 5 No. 1, quite like the Maestro from Alcoy.
Almost a decade has passed since the review disc was recorded, but as with Agustín Barrios, passage of time has not tarnished, only brightened its appeal. For those who may be unaware of this recording, a review is appropriate and timely.
Alexander-Sergei Ramírez was born in Lima, Peru in 1952. His father was a Peruvian painter and his mother a German pianist. After studying the cello for a number of years, Ramirez taught himself the guitar for two years, and then studied with Professor Maritta Kersting in Düsseldorf; he subsequently studied with Jose Luis Gonzalez in Alcoy, Spain and later with Pepe Romero in San Diego. Ramirez is currently a professor of guitar at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf and gives master classes. He is married to pianist Sheila Arnold with whom he plays and records duos on period instruments.
Although John Williams claimed Barrios to be the greatest composer of guitar music ever, like most composers, not all his compositions are masterpieces. The programme here is interesting and balanced; the well-known and loved pieces are included along with several other treasures that are less frequently recorded.
In comparison to that of Segovia’s prime, the modern school of guitar employs considerably less freedom in execution, and its disciples often impress as being clone-like; it is challenging to recognize one player from another. Ramirez’s playing strikes one as being rather atypical for a guitarist - more in the style of a pianist? This is probably explained, in part, by his long association with the cello and that he also studied with pianist Karl-Heinz Kämmerling, violinist Dénes Zsigmondy and tenor Luigi Alva.
Barrios was a master of exploiting the intrinsic technical capabilities of the guitar and some of his music is fiendishly challenging to play well. In his music there is ample opportunity for the new generation of technical wiz-kids to display their prowess. Refreshingly, Ramirez’s prime focus is on the music not display of technical pyrotechnics, although one never doubts that when required there is ample technical reserve.
It is difficult to fault the playing on this disc. While Ramirez does not excel his teacher, Jose Luis Gonzalez, in Preludio in G minor , his interpretation is nonetheless memorable. Since the score provides no markings, expressive license is part of the music; Barrios rarely played any of his compositions exactly the same way. I have always admired Ramirez’s interpretive flair, and he extracts more from his guitar than most; even if you have previously heard alternative renditions he will invariably surprise you. There is some interesting rubato and ponticello playing in Aire de Zamba ; the pronounced right-hand nail, ‘rasping’ sounds in Danza Paraguay  are unique.
In general the playing has strength, a lovely tone, admirable dynamic shading and a ‘singing’ quality to the melodic line. There is no mention of who made the instrument employed, but its tonal qualities reflect the best Spanish design traditions, typified by top makers from the Granada region.
The accompanying liner-notes by Ramirez are excellent and contain copies of several photographs of Barrios, including an autographed photo of him in concert.
One could feel secure in conjecture that this is a recording of which Barrios would approve - justifiably even admire.
A treat for all aficionados of fine music - a must for Barrios devotees … see Full Review