Paraguayan guitarist Julio Reyes made his concert debut in the Old First Concerts series at Old First Church when he was twelve years old. That would have been in 1977. Both Reyes and Old First Concerts have progressed considerably since then. Yesterday afternoon Reyes returned to Old First. As might be guessed, his repertoire had expanded; and this time his program drew heavily upon a CD he released in 2010 entitled Heart Strings (which he also chose as the name of the program).
The second half of the program was devoted entirely to the music of the famous Paraguayan classical guitarist Agustín Barrios. Reyes’ own teacher, Dionicio Basualdo, was a protégé of Barrios; so there was a strong personal element in his connection to Barrios. This was evident in the remarks he provided to introduce compositions that many of us were hearing for the first time.
Most importantly, however, he stressed that what Barrios had fixed as marks on musical staff paper was not necessarily representative. Barrios was, first and foremost, a performing musician; and, as a performer, he was a prodigious improviser. Reyes observed that he could never see a reason in playing any piece of music the same way twice. Since this was, for me, a “first contact” with Barrios’ music, I have no idea how much Reyes has maintained the composer’s improvising spirit. Nevertheless, there was definitely an “in the moment” quality to his performance, even when it involved a highly structured piece like “La Catedral,” each of whose three movements seemed to have been inspired by the contrapuntal organ preludes of Johann Sebastian Bach. (Of course those preludes, in turn, may have had their origins in Bach’s own improvising.)
The first half of the program offered a broader view of the guitar repertoire, reaching back to 1821, the year of publication of Fernando Sor’s set of variations on “Das klinget so herrlich” from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and advancing as far as a short piece (“My Ballerina”), which Reyes wrote for his bride-to-be shortly before their wedding. Two of the pieces, while written for solo guitar, were given “combo” treatment with Reyes’ brother Carlo on bass guitar and subdued percussion from Ed McClary. These were Heitor Villa-Lobos’ first chôro and a waltz that the Venezuelan guitarist Antonio Lauro composed for his daughter Natalia. There was also recognition of the Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida when Reyes played Almeida’s arrangement of Frédéric Chopin’s E-flat major nocturne (Opus 9, Number 2). Reyes also performed one of Isaac Albéniz’ best-known piano compositions, “Sevilla,” presumably in the 1929 transcription for guitar by Miguel Llobet.
Taken as a whole, the program nicely surveyed the diversity of the guitar repertoire, enhanced by the brief but highly personalized observations Reyes offered to introduce each piece.