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Guitar Music of Colombia
Adolfo MEJÍA (1905-1973)
Bambuco en mi (1967) [3:09]
Gentil MONTAÑA (1942-2011)
Suite Colombiana No. 3 [23:18]
Lucas SABOYA (b.1980)
Suite Ernestina (2011) [16:05]
Suite Colombiana No. 2 [16:37]
Hector GONZÁLEZ (b.1961)
Preludio (1999) [4:14]
José Antonio Escobar (guitar)
rec. 2012, St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada
NAXOS 8.573059 [63:23]

José Antonio Escobar continues his musical tour of South America. My MusicWeb International colleague Göran Forsling praised Escobar’s last volume, from Chile, for “absolutely stunning playing.” More: “José Antonio Escobar is a fabulous guitarist, whose playing is so assured that it sounds more or less improvised. It sounds effortless – and that is not a euphemism for bland and unengaged.” I’m quoting him because everything he says is true here, too. Truly this is a guitarist worth listening to, or, if you’re a composer, worth writing for.

My colleague took longer to appreciate the music in that Chilean album, because it combined folk elements with post-1950s classical languages. That’s not the case here. Guitar Music of Colombia feels like it’s in a time warp, or a land untouched by modernist conservatory composition teachers. These composers are using the materials that come most naturally to them, to build music of exquisite craft and expressive fullness. Three cheers for that.

The most prominent name here is Julio Gentil Albarracín Montaña, a guitarist and composer who founded a music school in Colombia to, in his words, “exchange arms of destruction for musical instruments and develop a true tradition of the guitar in Colombia.” The school, the Fundación Gentil Montaña, still exists in Bogotá, and has a nice website with a biography of its founder. This is how I found out that Naxos misspelled his name consistently across this whole disc, either as Gentíl or Géntil. There’s no accent. Yes, taken very literally, his name translates as “genteel mountain”.

At any rate, in addition to teaching, Montaña wrote three Suites Colombianas, a series dedicated to preserving Colombian dance and song styles. Thus you’ll hear the rhythms of the bambuco where, traditionally, dancers face each other, step forwards and back without touching each other, and at the end the man gives the woman his handkerchief. Then there's the porro which is vibrant, quick and influenced by Afro-Caribbean culture and the guabina: an old-fashioned waltz. The “guabina viajera”, a gentle waltz tribute to a great national guitarist, is especially endearing.

Another bambuco comes from Adolfo Mejía. His piece from 1967 is the oldest thing on the disc, and a sparkling minor-key opener.

Lucas Saboya represents the new generation of Colombian composer, born in 1980. He and his brothers have a band which performs traditional music, and his Suite Ernestina is utterly wonderful, particularly the first movement, “Costurera”, a nocturne-style work which provides the album’s finest moment of contemplation. Maybe that’s a tie with the third-movement song, which really does seem like it’s a poem away from being sung by a folksy mezzo on a patio as club patrons tap their feet, hold hands, and sip on mojitos.

There’s not much more to say about this disc. The music is uniformly folksy, good-natured, brimming with tunes, and perfect for a sunny afternoon or, if it’s raining, perfect for imagining that you are on holiday in the tropics.

Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver, the team of geniuses who have been producing Naxos guitar albums for years, have recorded this recital as expertly as all their previous efforts. Long may José Antonio Escobar’s delightful tour of regional guitar music continue. He’s scored another big hit here.

Brian Reinhart