The term "Spanish" guitar is often used as an equivalent for the more encompassing "classical" guitar, but even that takes in an enormous range of cultures, time periods, and approaches to the instrument. A guitar recital titled "Guitar Music from Latin America & Spain" may contain everything from 16th-century pavanes written for the vihuela to revolutionary works by Cuban composer/guitarist/conductor Leo Brouwer. Luz Maria Bobadilla, a young artist from Paraguay, played a program that attempted to show this wide-ranging panorama of guitar works. This joint presentation by Duke Performances and the Triangle Guitar Society on February 23 was another sold-out performance at the auditorium in the new Nasher Museum of Art on the Duke University campus.
Although the starting time officially changed to 7:30 from the usual 8 p.m., Bobadilla did not take the stage until nearly 8 p.m. Despite her self-described difficulties with the English language, she prefaced nearly every work with a detailed description and was perfectly understood by all. Her programming was quite unique in that she began the concert with two of the most famous works in the entire guitar literature – ones that are most often played as encores. "Recuerdos de la Alhambra," by Francisco Tarrega, is a lovely tone poem of the Alhambra castle in Spain and a work that displays the deceptively difficult tremolo technique. Bobadilla played with an even and beautifully phrased approach that was both wistful and passionate. "Asturias," by Isaac Albeniz, and a brief elegy from the evocative "Castles of Spain," by Moreno-Torroba, were less successful since the lyricism that is central to the contrast in these works was hectic and choppy.
Besides being the homeland of the artist reviewed here, Paraguay is also the birthplace of Agustin Barrios, a relatively recently-discovered composer of a huge output of original guitar music. Virtually unknown outside of Paraguay and neighboring countries prior to about 1960, Barrios has become a wonderful cache of beautiful, challenging original works for the guitar. His output runs the gamut from works "in the style of" the masters to lovely pieces steeped in his Paraguayan traditions. Bobadilla played three of his most popular and technically difficult compositions. "Gran Tremolo," as its name suggests, is a piece that features the rapidly alternating repeated notes known as tremolo. This piece is special because it is thought to be the last work written by Barrios; its subtitle is "An Alm for the Love of God." This was played with an effortless and fluid technique that portrayed the beauty of the melody rising above the tremolo without revealing the inherent physical complexities behind the work. However, this was not to continue. Her lackluster presentation of La Catedral, a three-movement piece inspired by the organ music of Bach, seemed to shout out the hard parts and was mired in too much finger fumbling, especially in the final Allegro section. She redeemed herself at the end of the evening with a powerful, driving rendition of "Danza Paraguaya," a work so fiendishly difficult that it is most often played in a version for two guitars.
Latin American music is not confined just to sensuous harmonies, familiar rhythms, and mass appeal. One of the greatest figures to emerge from this culture is the Cuban musician Leo Brouwer. Like many composers, he is a constantly-evolving source of musical ideas who has gone through many disparate styles. Bobadilla showed she can handle more "experimental" music as she gave life to Brouwer's "Paisaje Cubano con Campanas." Percussive effects and extended harmonic sections combined with lyrical expressions to make this a perfect example of modern guitar music.
A curious – and unfortunate – inclusion in this concert of Spanish and Latin American music was the Jazz Suite for Children by the Russian composer Alexander Vinitsky. This is a faux jazz piece that throws together the most obvious jazz clichés and harmonies in a thoroughly disrespectful manner to both jazz and children. With such a wealth of great composers and styles from south of the border, a better programming choice would have rounded out an otherwise wonderful evening.
Luz Bobadilla is an excellent guitarist with a secure technique that allows her to portray the life of the music effectively. She suffers from being a bit too introspective much of the time, even when the music calls for a more aggressive and extroverted style. It was encouraging to see a totally full house on a weekday evening for a relatively unknown guitarist. Hopefully Duke Performances will take note and continue to book guitarists for future series.