Cuban-born classical guitarist Manuel Barrueco headlined the last concert on this season's Porter Center artist series. He appeared with Cuarteto Latinoamericano, and they brought a long and taxing program of 20th-century chamber music that did include one 19th-century work for solo guitar. This was number seven of a ten-date tour that started in Mexico City on April 11 and will conclude May 10 in Koblenz, Germany.
To whet the tonal appetite the program featured Agustín Barrios-Mangoré's 1939 edition of La Catedral for solo guitar; Astor Piazzolla's three movement Tango Sensations, arranged for quintet by Barrueco; and settings of "Milonga del Angel" and "Muerte del Angel," arranged by César Olguín. The balance of material was drawn from works by Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000), Michael Daugherty (b.1954), Javier Álvarez (b.1956), and the North Carolina premieer of Inca Dances by Gabriela Lena Frank (b.1972), a work received by the group only six weeks prior to this concert.
This program opened with "Jeromita Linares," No. 6 of Guastavino's Las Presencias, a series of musical portraits first published in 1965. This single movement has an organic quality, as though the material is drawn from experience or real images, and used the quintet's instrumental techniques in a very balanced way. The guitar was assisted with a small on-stage amplifier/speaker unit for the whole program.
Next we heard Daugherty's three-movement Bay of Pigs (2006), an elegy to the island commissioned by Music Accord and written for Barrueco. It is hard to escape all the ironies, conflicts, beauty, and bittersweet images the title suggests. Of course the location is famous for a failed U.S. invasion there in 1961. Daugherty is working all of our recollections and impressions. "Havana Dreams" recalls an exotic tropical city prior to the revolution. "Water Fall" evokes a land surrounded – and some believe imprisoned – by water. The third movement, "Anthem," summons echoes of Castro and Guevara. It is certainly a successful composition, similar in an organic sense to the first work of the program.
Before intermission, the guitar took a break and Cuarteto Latinoamericano performed "Metro Chabacano" by Álvarez. The title is a subway stop in Mexico City. It is a single-movement perpetual motion work driven by an eighth note figure, with the melody line offered to each instrument during a dynamic eight minutes. The work was originally written for string orchestra and later revised as a quartet.
After intermission, Barrueco performed the three-movement solo Barrios work, La Catedral (The Cathedral). Lore has it Barrios stopped at a church one day (Preludio), heard an organist practicing Bach (Andante religioso), and then emerged onto the busy, sun-washed city street (Allegro solemne). It's a good story that tracks the movements well, especially the dramatic chords and chromaticism of the second movement and the busy running sixteenth note figure of the third. It was a splendid performance, free of extraneous wood or string sounds.
Next came the first hearing of Frank's Inca Dances. It is in two movements, a solo for guitar titled "Lamento del Panaca," followed by "Danza del Mallqui-Rey" for the entire ensemble. Again, we returned to that organic root, and the resulting sense of sameness in vocabulary, form or style – or all. This was followed by the Piazzolla set; in summary its five movements and the other works went on a little too long. The style of the works and the manner and nuance of the ensemble's playing did not suggest enough differences between and among the composers.
The ensemble was in touch throughout, either with eye contact or body language; their intonation was spot-on, the rhythms and complicated metric figures were executed with deft technical expertise, and certainly Barrueco showed all the reasons he is considered one of the more respected guitarists currently on the world stage. The program, however, was an exotic mixture of similar sounds, and therein it is hard to avoid the effects of Muzak – after you've heard the same thing a lot, you simply stop listening.
There was no encore.