BROUWER, BARRIOS, VILLA-LOBOS, MOREL: En Silencio: Latin American Guitar Music  – Ricardo Gallén – Eudora SACD 1801 – 74:48 (4/18): ****½:

(Ricardo Gallén, guitar by Paco Marin)

An exquisite recital of  Latin American guitar music including the magnum opus La Catedral of Agustin Barrios and two fine Brouwer pieces played by one of the giants of the instrument.

J. S. BACH: Ciaccona – Bin Hu – Eudora SACD 1803 – 62:24, (8/18): *****:

(Bin Hu, guitar by Andreas Kirmse)

Audiophile recordings of the highest merit from both a sound and interpretative standpoint.

Eudora Records, out of Madrid, has been around for a number of years but still has a catalog of only 14 titles. These releases, however, amply reflect the label’s deliberation in bringing together state of the art recording and world-class performances of rare distinction. We at Audiophile Audition first encountered Eudora Records in a stunning recording of Bach cello suites in new arrangements for guitar by Petrit Ceku. (https://www.audaud.com/bach-the-cello-suites-arr-by-valter-despalj-petrit-ceku-guitar-eudora/)

The acoustics were remarkable for vibrancy and three-dimensional clarity. There followed an exquisite recording of Haydn (https://www.audaud.com/haydn-piano-sonatas-nos-31-33-47-59-enrique-bagaria-p-eudora/), more first rate guitar recordings, and an astonishing recital by Norwegian theorbist Jonas Norberg. Eudora’s finest in-house pianist, Josep Colom, offered two recitals that imagined encounters between Bach and, alternately, Mozart and Chopin (https://www.audaud.com/mozart-chopin-dialogue-josep-colom-p-eudora/).

For guitarists, Eudora Records is a label to dream about. It is a mystery how producer and engineer can recruit this level of talent and plumb the depth of acoustical research to deliver recitals like those in these recordings. Most recently, a major figure in classical guitar, Ricardo Gallén, has contributed two additional recordings to their catalog. Well-known for a series of Naxos recordings, Gallén delivered a fine recording of sonatas by Ferdinando Sor followed by an anthology of Latin America works titled En Silencio. 

This 2018 release features Gallén’s remarkable Paco Marin (2003) 19th century-style instrument which, in a spacious room with lively overtones, yields a sweetness of tone especially in the bright upper register. In the introductory liner notes, we are graced with a fine essay by Mario Alcaraz that skips over conventional musicological information in favor of musings on what it means to be a true artist or master. He reminds us that it involves, beyond the requisite technical virtuosity attained through hard-work, “a kind of peaceful, pleasurable understanding of the world – a mixture of love and insight.” Indeed. The brief essays in Spanish and English that accompany these discs are very well-done.

The finest works on this program are probably the two pieces by Leo Brouwer, Suite No. 2 and Dos temas populares cubanos. The composer himself encouraged the guitarist to record these for posterity, and it would be hard to imagine more moving and insightful renditions. I await the day when this superb composer will be recognized beyond the classical guitar world as a major figure in 20th century music, perhaps attracting transcriptions of his work for other instruments.

Less well-known is Jorge Morel, but his twilit Sonatina here is a wonder of lyrical economy. Even the Allegretto, probably the easiest movement on the recording, is a guitarist ballad drenched in middle register honey, evoking Satie at his best with a little of the Balkan guitar tradition emerging from the wings. There is more introspective beauty to come in the two pieces by Carlos Farinas, the inevitable cancion triste, and the title track en silencio. These quiet pieces achieve the finest concentration of both sonic detail and nuanced playing.

Portrait Astor Piazzolla

Astor Piazzolla, 1971

Given the popularity of all things tango and of Piazzolla, it is not surprising to encounter one of his Portenos.  Technically demanding and effusively rhetorical, this piece serves up all the by-now-(too)-familiar tango gestures. Like so much of the music of this composer, the melody line has the attention span of a short-haired pointer. I would guess that many in AudAud’s audience will like this piece more than me. Gallén’s performance, though, is admirable. His fingers warmed up, Villa-Lobos follows. If not for the musicality of the guitarist, these pieces might evoke the conservatory practice room, the technicality of expressive balance tips only slightly to the latter. Fortunately, everything that follows is a notch better, starting with three pieces by Antonia Lauro. These are brisk, invigorating polyphonic swirls; the guitar is at its most orchestral, no space is left uncolored by decorative detail. These must be extremely challenging pieces, but it is joy rather than effort that is communicated here.

In comparison to the superb Augustin Barrios, the first third of the recital must be humbled. Barrios has been called “the Mozart of the guitar”; I would upgrade that to the Haydn of the guitar. His harmonic wit complements an inventive melodic genius, which is as inexhaustible as the famous Austrian composer’s. There is also an economy of form and love of delight that reminds one of Scarlatti. His magnum opus, La Catedral, is on another level from the works of the earlier composers.

This a very fine recital by one of the elite players today, a guitarist who also has the distinction of having made the finest guitar recording ever of the Bach lute suites. This will serve us as a bridge to the next artist who studied under Gallén and presumably took this recordings as inspiration for his own Bach project.

Chinese-born Bin Hu is a student of the first classical guitar school in near Beijing. He has since embarked on a world-wide tour, which has brought him accolades from all quarters. Now an instructor at the University of Arizona, he finds himself at the beginning of what promises to be a brilliant career as both player and scholar of Baroque literature. No more auspicious beginning could be imagined than his release Ciaccona: J.S. Bach which is devoted to the famous title piece as well as new transcriptions of the other famous Bach violin works.

I typically avert from Chaccone played on the violin. There is too much suffering for both instrument and player, not to mention the enormous cloud of religious iconography that hovers over the work. However, transcriptions for plucked instruments are another thing altogether. Bin Hu succeeds in navigating the nearly quarter-hour work with poise and intelligence. In the main, we are spared effortful scraping and polyphonic morass. A clear pulse prevails in even the darkest moments, and the middle voices, the specialty of the Gonzalo Noque studio, are realized with radiant clarity.

Portait Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach

Superior counsel placed the Chaconne second to the end. (it is followed by the lovely Sinfonia which is a restorative meditation). We begin with the stupendous Prelude from Partita BWV 1006. It is the most overtly-ecstatic work from Bach’s pen, a great leaping about and gamboling in space. It is also a fine demonstration of velocity over the neck of the instrument, which in Hu Bin’s hand is done without strain. The two other Sonatas, BWV 1001 & 1003, are taken in sequence. These are staples of the repertoire and present a just a modicum of newness in the arrangements. Hu Bin is unhurried and exact, but there are moments of pure ravishment too. The guitarist is apparently also a scholar of Baroque research. We might have guessed as much from the elaborate attention to the ornamentation throughout. All manner of appoggiatura and acciaccatura are deftly translated to the guitar in nuanced ways. He is not above a little guitaristic “shredding” too; The coda to the Allegro in BWV 1001 is flamboyantly original. Certainly one would need only this recording out of the dozens of choices if there is a reader who seeks a first. Other can make their own comparisons.

Curious about the Eudora sound, I decided to match both of the above recordings with a SACD on Teldec of the incomparable David Russell. This performer, whose endorsements are often a major point on a  performers resume, possesses superhuman prowess. The recording in question, Art of the Guitar, revealed an artist at the top of his game; The surround-sound hybrid SACD recording, however, was vastly inferior to the Eudora recording, the guitar sound alternately brittle and opaque.  I invite readers to further investigate the niceties of guitar acoustics. One might have to compare Eudora with M-A Recording or BIS to find competitors.

The liner notes include  well-informed (footnoted), cogent essay on the music as well as some striking photos. It is not a positive sign that the Spanish translation is gone, perhaps an indication that this country of such deep musical traditions and abundant performers represents a negligible audience for this labels productions.

Ciaccona effectively bookends the earlier Bach recording by Petrit Ceku and both connect to Ricard Gallén’s comprehensive recital of the non-transcribed standard works. We heartily commend these spectacular recordings to our readers and salute yet another recording triumph by this tiny but hugely significant label.

—Fritz Balwit

Bin Hu

Bin Hu

Richard Gallen

Ricardo Gallén

En Silencio

Ciaccona