Guitar Music of Chile. Jose Antonio Escobar, guitar. Naxos 8.570341, Copyright 2008, 70:43, $9.98

Since its founding, Naxos has been a great supporter and friend of classical guitarists throughout the world. Its “Laureate Series” and other projects that entailed complete collections of several guitar composers was, and continues to be, a blessing to listeners,  the recorded artists and the entire classical guitar community. For many years now, a recording contract with Naxos has been one of the coveted prizes for many guitar competitions, including the prestigious annual Guitar Foundation of America. This has helped launch careers and, more importantly, has created an atmosphere that encourages the recording of many new and unknown works that most other labels would consider financially prohibitive.

Another series in the more than 200 releases on this label that features the classical guitar is “Guitar Music of ______.” Previous titles have covered Argentina, Cuba and Brazil and now we can enjoy a disc dedicated to the music from Chile — a country that doesn’t immediately come to mind when the guitar is mentioned. The featured performer is José Antonio Escobar, born in Santiago and winner of several important international competitions. Glancing at the program of this recording, even to those of us familiar with the guitar repertoire, I am struck with the fact that every composer is unknown to me and quite young — one only 24. But, this is the hallmark of Naxos’s recording philosophy and a welcome one in a world that often plays it safe and cheap.

One exception to the under-30 rule here is a set of songs called 5 Anticuecas, written in 1961 by the Chilean singer Violeta Parra. These are wonderfully evocative and emotive miniatures that make it a musical crime if the sheet music does not soon become available to the public. This singer’s importance to Chile is honored in the sonata Homenaje a Violeta Parra written by Juan Antonio Sanchez.

The music of Javier Contreras is featured in several cuts, including the opening Euclidica which is based on the cuceca, the national dance of Chile. This work, along with his Tonada del Retorno, is written almost as a dare to up the ante on guitar technique.  

Escobar is an expressive, mature artist who has transcended the nitty-gritty of technique and gets to the essence of the music. In addition, the reliably excellent engineering of Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver makes this a sonic joy. Highly recommended.