Música de Julio Sagreras.Carlos Pérez, guitar.  Prodimus Produccion y Distribucion Musical, 21 tracks, TT 56:06, ©2008. Available via http://www.tradebit.com/filedetail.php/95624402-carlos-perez or Amazon.

There are moments in the business of professional music (or perhaps professional moments in music, or even musical moments in professional business!) where the performer and composer are so well suited, one is completely free to sit back and let that magic spirit wash over the self. As a listener I think too often we’re picky about things like the cane an oboe player uses or which stops are appropriate on the organ de jour or what brand baton the conductor is using – all exaggerations, but not really – that the essence of the thing or primary musical moments are obscured and hence become harder and harder to distinguish. For the music analyst, a self-imposed musicius obligatus is perhaps the source of confusion; we all have “tools” now, speakers and bytes, so we expect the best and hear perceived faults more clearly. But if nothing else, Music is an area for pleasure, enjoyment and spiritual nourishment; at some level we should be uplifted.

Now we discover a composer and performer who have nothing to prove, so refined is their technique, and so relaxed in their own skin. The subject is 19th century “parlor music” from the pen of Julio S. Sagreras (1879-1942), a pivotal figure of Argentinean guitar history and a major contributor to understanding the forces that shaped the guitar in South America. His story follows the usual forces exerted on a young talent: instrument lessons from a domineering parent, formal study from a virtuoso, studies at the conservatory, the first guitarist to graduate in composition studies, recitals a-plenty, touring, composing, transcriptions, et al. As a young virtuoso guitarist he performed at the highest levels of South American society and in the most prestigious venues in Buenos Aires, Rosario, and in Montevideo, Uruguay, where some time later an upstart concert guitarist by the name of Segovia would take up residence. In March of 1906, a review printed in Buenos Aries testified to his place: “And Segreras, in our time [. . . ] has been designated to show at great heights [. . . ] the powerful and surprising resources of the guitar. Thus eradicating the unjustifiable bias of some people who believe the guitar is just a street instrument which common people use for petty milongas, estilos and some other things.”

The legacy of Sagreras is in his compositions, both for the ear and for the student’s hands. His volumes of didactic pieces for study, Las Lecciones de Guitarra, have been known and used for years in the northern hemisphere, and his most famous concert piece, El Colibri, imitacion al vuelo del picaflor (Imitation of the Flight of the Hummingbird), is a frequent encore. Yet the main body of his compositions has been overlooked until European publisher Chanterelle Verlag produced six volumes of works in the  early 1990s, all drawn from over 118 works composed just for guitar.

Now Chilean guitarist Carlos Pérez has devoted an entire disc to this charming, substantive, yet light and unpretentious original guitar music. This recording includes the requisite tango, of course, and familiar forms of gavota, mazurka, scherzo and native “criollos” so important to the culture. There is also one barn burner of a moto perpetuo and three romantic pieces with the curious suffix, “Romanza sin palabras,” meaning “Romance without words” – a nod to Mendelssohn perhaps?

It would be a mistake to think this is all cupcake repertoire, easy throwaway tunes like we heard by the truckload for piano. While there are intermediate pieces, many are full-on virtuoso-caliber masterpieces in major forms showing command of harmony and modulation that deserves the attention of well grounded players and listeners. Pérez is one such guitarist, and in case you haven’t noticed, he’s been ripping up world-wide competitions and concert halls for the past seven years culminating in a sparkling recital at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in NY in March of 2010 presented by the Consulate of Chile, no less. Pérez has emerged as one of the next great guitarists on the world stage. His concert at La Guitarra California in September of 2009 received a standing ovation – at intermission!

In North Carolina, he has already performed at Wake Forest University, the UNC School of the Arts, Brevard College, Appalachian State University, Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, and at the historic Episcopal Church in Saluda. His visits to America are becoming more frequent, at least twice every year, and in some years even three times, so keep an eye on the arts calendar.

The 21 tracks on this recording reveal highly melodic music skillfully presented with loving care, as if for a found treasure. Segreras and Pérez are well suited for each other, and if more discs are coming they will be welcome for the average listener and especially the guitar aficionado, and coveted in the collector’s inventory as well.