Francesco TÁRREGA (1852 – 1909)
Guitar Music
Preludios [16:40]
Las Dos (Dos valses) [4:27]
Adelita (Mazurka) [1:41]
Marieta (Mazurka) [2:32]
Mazurka (in G) [2:44]
Maria (Gavota) [1:38]
Recuerdos de la Alhambra [5:40]
Rosita (Polka) [1:46]
Pepita (Polka) [1:43]
Capricho arabe (Serenata) [5:19]
Paquito (Vals) [2:29]
Gran vals [3:24]
Alborada (Capricho) [2:21]
Isabel (Vals) (Johann Strauss II) [1:49]
Vals (in D) [2:32]
Pavana [2:32]
Estudio brillante de Alard [2:28]
Mats Bergström (guitar)
rec. Nilento Studio, Källerud, Sweden, 20-21 October 2008
NAXOS 8.572365 [61:45]

Francisco Tárrega’s compositions are well known to lovers of guitar music and even those with a fleeting interest in the instrument must have heard Recuerdos de la Alhambra, or Tremolo Etude, as it is also called. It is a wonderful melody and there are lots of the same kind in his oeuvre. Though he was breaker of new ground when it came to guitar technique his compositions were far from daring or innovative, rather deeply rooted in the mid-19th century Romantic currents. But they are wonderful to listen to – provided the listener has a sweet tooth. They are equally useful as background wall-paper in company with a medium-rare steak and a bottle of Estremadura, as for concentrated listening with headphones.

I have some CDs with quite a lot of Tarrega pieces but none entirely devoted to his music. There are, however, at least two ‘complete’ Tarrega sets, one with Giulio Tampalini, reviewed a couple of years ago by my colleague Zane Turner (see review), and one with David Russell, which Zane also discusses in the review. There is also a disc with twenty-nine pieces played by Fernando Espi (see review). I have heard none of these but have long been an admirer of David Russell. Why do I write ‘complete’ with quotation marks? Well, Tampalini’s collection contains 58 works, Russell’s 62 and, as ZT writes ‘What represents the entire corpus of his original compositions appears to be the subject of academic debate’. ZT was not exactly overwhelmed by the Tampalini volume but concluded ‘In isolation this new offering of Tárrega’s music capably addresses the key components that have made him a most celebrated composer of guitar music’ while ‘David Russell still represents the gold standard for overall excellence.’ The verdict for Espi’s compilation was that his ‘capable approach is very "period', among other things observing the glissandos. He is playing an instrument that is very close in design to the guitars by Antonio Torres, which Tarrega played. But Mats Bergström’s guitar, made by Swedish luthier Lars Jönsson, is a replica, of the Torres instrument built in 1888 which became Tarrega’s favourite.

Mats Bergström is a Swedish guitarist who studied at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and the Juilliard School in New York. He has been a professional player for more than twenty-five years, making his recital debut at Wigmore Hall in 1983. He is one of the most versatile of guitarists as soloist as well as ensemble musician in a wide variety of genres. As accompanist he has worked with numerous Swedish instrumentalists and singers, including baritone Olle Persson (they have recorded Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin, which he also arranged), Anne Sofie von Otter, Tommy Körberg (of Chess fame) and Barbara Hendricks. He has a large discography but this seems to be his first solo record. Since Francisco Tárrega died one hundred years ago it was natural for Mats to record this tribute to him.

Several of Tarrega’s pupils, including Llobet and Pujol, have described him as ‘a charismatic romantic and a dreamer, unpretentious, kind and thoughtful’. Llobet even called him ‘angelic’. If these descriptions are anything to go by concerning his own playing, I believe Mats Bergström is very close to the mark. Take the ubiquitous Recuerdos de la Alhambra as an example. From my collection I picked two earlier Naxos recordings, one with David Martinez, the other with Norbert Kraft. Just have a look at the timings:

Martinez 3:44
Kraft 4:18
Bergström 5:40

Before I had read Mats Bergström’s liner-notes with the descriptions of Tarrega, I had written on my notepad: ‘A dreamy reading, which seems absolutely right´. ‘Recuerdos’ means remembrances and suchlike tend to be ‘dreamy’. It is slow, in real time, but one doesn’t get the impression it is. Martinez’s version – almost two minutes shorter, which is a sensational difference for so short a piece – is nervous and almost aggressive with heavy accents. His is a reading of the roaring 1990s, Mats Bergström’s is of the more genial 1890s. Norbert Kraft, always a reliable interpreter, is somewhere between, though considerably closer to Martinez than to Bergström. He uses more rubato and is a bit heavier. Mats Bergström’s is now my favourite version. Well, isn’t he eccentric with that tempo? Andrés Segovia, who was the one who established this piece and made it the favourite it has been for so long, takes 5:13 – an indication that Bergström is rather close to the original. And to round off this exposé: Fernando Espi takes 5:48! Case closed – but I must try to get hold of Espi’s disc.

Recuerdos de la Alhambra, which is the longest piece here, can stand as a symbol for the rest of the programme. ‘Dreamy’ may not be a keyword for everything on the disc, but the beauty of the playing, the care over nuances and the technical assurance, which is no end in itself, are all the time in evidence and makes this one of the most satisfying guitar recitals I have heard for a long time. Readers who have no further acquaintance with Tarrega’s music, apart from Recuerdos, will find a treasure trove here: Endecha (prelude No. 15 in D minor), Lagrima (Prelude No. 11 in E), Adelita, the lovely Mazurka in G, Maria and Capricho arabe are only a few of the pieces here that I have loved for so long and which will hopefully be friends for life once one has heard them. I don’t expect to hear them played with more elegance, warmth and charm – and the recording leaves nothing to be desired. I hope Naxos will ask him for a volume two before long. As a bonus we are also treated to ‘one of the most frequently heard tunes of our time’: measures 13-16 of Gran vals is the ring tone for Nokia mobile phones!

Göran Forsling

Track listing:
1-16. Preludios [16:40]
   No. 1 in D minor [1:29]
   No. 2 in A minor [1:50]
   No. 3 in G [0:46]
   No. 4 in E [0:47]
   No. 5 in E [1:51]
   No. 6 in B minor [1:01]
   No. 7 in A [0:50]
   No. 8 in F sharp minor [0:44]
   No. 9 in B minor on a theme of Mendelssohn [1:04]
   No. 10 in B minor [0:32]
   No. 11 in E ‘Lágrima’ [2:01]
   No. 12 in A minor [0:25]
   No. 13 in G [1:04]
   No. 14 in D [0:29]
   No. 15 in D minor ‘Endecha’ [1:13]
   No. 16 in D minor ‘Oremus’ (Robert Schumann) [0:34]
17. Las Dos (Dos valses) [4:27]
18. Adelita (Mazurka) [1:41]
19. Marieta (Mazurka) [2:32]
20. Mazurka (in G) [2:44]
21. Maria (Gavota) [1:38]
22. Recuerdos de la Alhambra [5:40]
23. Rosita (Polka) [1:46]
24. Pepita (Polka) [1:43]
25. Capricho arabe (Serenata) [5:19]
26. Paquito (Vals) [2:29]
27. Gran vals [3:24]
28. Alborada (Capricho) [2:21]
29. Isabel (Vals) (Johann Strauss II) [1:49]
30. Vals (in D) [2:32]
31. Pavana [2:32]
32. Estudio brillante de Alard [2:28]