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The world is well-populated with guitars and guitarists – between my sons and me, we have 4 or 5 - and when I lived on the Mediterranean island of Majorca, there were guitars in every café, at each party and on all the terraces in the valley. It is surely the most popular musical instrument in the world – and perhaps the least mastered and most out-of-tune instrument, too.
That said, on top of this immense pyramid of musicians stand a handful of true masters; among them is the young Chilean guitarist Carlos Pérez. Winner of six of the most prestigious awards in the rarified stratus of guitar competitions in the last 12 years, he has released 5 CDs and, recently, his first DVD, “Guitara Clásica.” This concert kicked off a week-long Artist Residency Program, including two master-classes and two lectures.
Playing on the campus of Wake Forest University, in Brendle Recital Hall, which passes for an intimate setting (600 seats) for one of the most soft-spoken of all instruments, Pérez captivated his audience with a varied program of rediscoveries — Ferdinando Carulli and Julio Sagreras (“New Old-Masters,” the subject of one of his lectures) — and more well-known — Agustín Barrios.
The entire first half of the concert was devoted to works by Carulli, born in Naples, Italy, in the same year as Beethoven. He relocated to Paris, where he spent most of his adult life. Largely self-taught on the guitar, Carulli is best known for his Guitar Method, a pedagogy still in use. As one might assume, the Sonata, Op. 21,, an early work, follows the classical form in three movements. Sudden key changes, heralding the start of the development remind one of Haydn’s use of the technique. The Largo (2nd movement) is improvisatory in nature and furnished examples of the great range of dynamics even a delicate instrument can accomplish. The third movement, Rondeau (rondo), is Schubertesque in its themes; Pérez made the devilish difficulties sound easy.
Two later works followed, Andantes from Carulli’s Op. 320 (he wrote over 400 works!); the first of an introspective nature and the second is filled with many embroidered passages and runs. They were followed with a grand Polonaise, that dance in a pre-waltz ¾ meter that is typified by its crisp dotted rhythm.
After intermission, we were treated to moments of nostalgia of the kind which evokes silent films, patchouli, and anisette. The agent provocateur was another “New Old-Master,” Argentine Julio Sagreras (1879-1942), also mostly known to modern aficionados for his guitar method books, but this evening, the composer of eight short works. Starting with an arpeggio-style Sonatina and ending with a virtuosic Tango, this group included a slow waltz ("La Ideal") and a gavotte which, with its sweet charm and stately reserve, lived up to its name, "La Elegante."
More familiar to guitar lovers is the name of Paraguayan Agustin Barrios (1896-1944), now remembered for a large body of compositions but better known during his life-time for his incredible virtuosity. And indeed, Carlos Pérez reserved his own incredible technical prowess until these last works on the program — "Villancico de Navidad," full of bell-like harmonics, and "El Punto Guanacasteco," replete with musical fireworks such as playing with the left hand alone (the hard striking of the fingers on the frets makes audible pitchs) and abrupt key changes, leaving the listener hanging in suspense until harmonic resolution. This last-minute burst of brilliance inspired the audience to demand an encore, a charming setting of a Venezuelan folksong.
Pérez has been to Winston-Salem before, as a soloist with the Winston-Salem Symphony and in recital at Wake Forest University. But he continues to impress as his career maintains its vertiginous trajectory. We look forward to his return to the area.