Guitarist Manuel Barrueco

Guitar gurus: Terrence Farrell, Kenny Hill, Manuel Barrueco and Peter Evans

By Scott MacClelland

WHAT MET THE EYE at Sunset Center in the season finale of the Carmel Music Society was a noticeably larger audience for guitarist Manuel Barrueco than for its previous guest artist, pianist Wu Han. The CMS generally chooses pianists to play its fine Steinway as a safe bet, so this came as somewhat of a surprise.

Because the guitar has such an intimate voice, a subtly sensitive amplification made sure everyone in the room, including the distant balcony, could take in the gems and jewels on offer.

The handout booklet had no program notes; Barrueco immediately explained changes to the printed lineup, which, with his slightly Cuban accent, led to a certain confusion. It didn’t matter. Spanish and Cuban music comprised the concert, from as early as the Spanish Renaissance of Luys de Narváez to the essential innovations of Francisco Tárrega, the Cuban master Julián Orbón and onto the Cantos Yorùbá de Cuba (1977) by Héctor Angula—music of the Yorùbá people of Western Nigeria and Benin having long since taken root in Cuba where they were brought as slaves.

Barrueco made his instrument sound like at least four different ones, with colors as robust as brilliant acrylics and as subtle as delicate watercolors and pastels. In one piece, he simultaneously played a strong principal melody and its gentler accompaniment keeping both in balanced perspective. Moving his right hand up and down the fingerboard produced a rainbow of different shades. His harmonics rang with silver purity.

A set of Cuban Dances by Ignacio Cervantes and Orbón’s Prelude and Dance concluded the program’s first half. For the second, pieces originally composed for piano by Spaniards Enrique Granados and Isaac Albéniz were played in their well known guitar transcriptions.

Barrueco added three pieces by Tárrega to fill out the program. Sustained applause inspired a single encore, a transcription of a keyboard sonata by Domenico Scarlatti played with crystalline clarity.

The artist generously joined the crowd at a post-concert reception in the Sunset Center lobby.