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Berta Rojas plays Barrios

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • April 28, 2008

Barrios.jpgAgustín Pío Barrios was one of the 20th century's most intriguing -- not to say eccentric -- composers. Born in Paraguay in 1885, he spent a frustrating career as a guitarist-composer, often mocked for his unconventional repertoire and for using metal guitar strings rather than the conventional gut. A true original (he was the first classical guitarist to make recordings), Barrios also reinvented himself in his mid-40s as a Guarani tribal chief, performing in native costume and calling himself Cacique Nitsuga Mangoré, "the Paganini of the guitar from the jungles of Paraguay."

Barrios died, largely unsung, in 1944. But he left behind some of the most engaging and beautifully crafted guitar music ever written, and on Saturday evening the gifted Paraguayan guitarist Berta Rojas presented an all-Barrios program at Westmoreland Congregational Church, as part of the always interesting John E. Marlow Guitar Series.

Rojas clearly has Barrios's music deeply in her blood; playing entirely from memory, she traversed the composer's stylistic range, from the poignant "El Ultimo Canto" and classically inspired works like "Estudio de Concierto" and "Allegro Sinfonico," to pieces like "Julia Florida" and "Jha che Valle" (with their roots in Latina American folk music) and Barrios's extraordinarily beautiful masterpiece, "La Catedral."

And when Rojas is at her best, there may be no better Barrios interpreter alive. Often in the faster works, she tended to push tempos to the brink, smearing the details. But on the whole, these were intimate, introspective performances (the moving "Choro de Saudade" seemed to come directly from her heart), rich in subtle colors and intuitive understanding of Barrios's complex personality

Posted on Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 04:59PM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | Comments1 Comment

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Hello Stephen,
I too have been a privileged witness to a Berta Rojas performance & have written a review of her recent London concert (27th Nov 08) which I thought you might like to read:-

Un Sueno en la Purcell Room

Recently I have encountered in person and then inevitably on CDs (three in fact!) the most sublimely poetic and technically accomplished (and beautiful!) guitarist presently alive on this planet. Her name is Berta Rojas.

My favourite composer for the guitar being Agustin Barrios naturally impelled me, at (my colleague from Southampton Classical Guitar Society) Wayne Lines' kind invitation, to London's Southbank Centre's Purcell Room on Thursday 27th November 2008 at 7:45pm, where the advertised programme was "Berta Rojas: Paraguay According to Agustin Barrios". Before this occasion I had not actually heard of Berta but I can assure you I will never forget her now for the rest of my life.

Whilst surprised the audience was of relatively modest size, the quality of it was somewhat exceptional, including many significant people from today’s classical guitar scene (producers, magazine editors and professional players). The expectation of something special was, therefore, already high.

Straight away the concert got off to a unique start; before Berta even appeared in person the room went dark and, to the strains of a thrilling Las Abejas, we were treated to an excerpt of a DVD she has made which is dedicated to the people of Paraguay as portrayed by Barrios' inspired music.

Already enchanted, we were then doubly so as Berta made her graceful entrance. The first piece's title is the only point at which we could attempt to pick any kind of "hole"; after all, should not El Ultimo Canto be better presented under its proper title of Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios?

This small thing aside, this piece certainly set the scene for things to come with a tremolo so accomplished you could focus entirely on the poetic melody, being able to disregard the intricate way it was actually being produced.

After this was the first we heard Berta speak. She explained her natural affinity and love for the music of her fellow countryman Barrios and the various influences on his music, particularly Bach, Chopin and native South American. All these influences she wished to illustrate in her concert.

The first illustrations were native South American in Aconquija and Maxixe, including dexterous and unobtrusive slides. Next were two studies in the European tradition: Estudio de Concierto and Allegro Sinfonico, both pieces brushed aside as if with a feather duster despite the complexity that makes them rare in live performance.

Choro da Saudade followed (the one piece here nominally in my own repertoire!), again deftly done despite the large left hand stretches. The first half finished satisfyingly with two Paraguayan dances - Ca’azapa and Jha che Valle.

The interval seemed all too brief for we had barely caught our breath (or finished our drinks!) before being called back to the auditorium.

The second half had just as interesting a start as the first with Berta performing Un Sueno en la Floresta with consummate ease.Almost with a jolt we were then transported to the French salon world of Chopin via Barrios' Waltz 3 & 4, Op. 8. Julia Florida was played to a concurrent showing of more of her Barrios DVD; quite the complete sensory experience - Paraguay entered our very souls via ear and eye. A live performance of Las Abejas followed - just as stunning.

I think most guitarists will agree that Barrios' music is generally not the easiest to play and even when played can still sound difficult. Well, firstly take a woman who has an immediately stunning stage persona (she is also Paraguay's ambassador of tourism); secondly, consider a technique that is quite faultless and then you have a performance that sounds so easy that you will begin to wonder if you have actually ever heard this music before (even played by Williams or Kayath).

La Catedral (the final programmed offering) in Berta's hands surpasses brilliance and can be heard on her CD. Her other two CDs are another solo one Cielo Abierto, which includes more modern repertoire, and a duo with Carlos Barbosa-Lima Alma y Corazon. All will never be far from me but the Barrios will always be the closest!

After such a performance there was, of course, a demand for more; Wayne was quietly saying that he hoped we would hear Danza Paraguaya - and lo, his and all others present desires were more that satisfied by a rendition of that very piece; tumultuous and breathless applause continued some time after Berta's graceful departure from the stage.

Overall, this concert was a deeply moving and life changing experience, certainly for me and maybe for Wayne too! Vincent Lindsey-Clark (another SCGS member & well known guitarist composer/performer/arranger) who was also in the audience has had some compositions commissioned by Berta; how lucky he is to have such a person ask him to write music!! An honour indeed!

Martin F. Slater
Southampton Classical Guitar Society (U.K.)
December 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMartin F. Slater

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