Guitarist Barrueco in rare form

April 20, 1999|By Larry Harris | Larry Harris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When globetrotting Manuel Barrueco makes one of his infrequent homecoming stops at Peabody Institute, it is occasion for all sorts of classical guitar fans, from sophisticated to neophyte, to turn out. Those hearing the master for the first time are left agog at his dexterity; those who have been there before eagerly await his newest accomplishments.

Such was the case Saturday night at Friedberg Hall, when the Cuban-born Barrueco, who now makes Baltimore his home, presented a clearly delineated program of old and new. It has been said that an adroit guitarist can make his instrument sound like a small orchestra, but on this night it was a full-blown symphony.

"I wanted to achieve a balance of selections," Barrueco said. "The old warhorses came first, and then I wanted the audience to hear some of the latest things I have done."

Those "old warhorses" took on a special life under the deft fingers of Barrueco, who showed off his magnificent left hand in the opening "Suite No. 11 in B minor," a French baroque work by Roberto de Visee (1650-1725), who was court guitarist for the Sun King, Louis XIV.

J. S. Bach's "Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E-flat Major BMV 998" was warmly received, and "Variations on a theme by Mozart, Op. 9" by Fernando Sor, which concluded the first half of the program, left no doubt that Barrueco's virtuosity has reached an astounding level.

After intermission, Barrueco resumed with selections from his last two CDs for EMI Classics, both of which are devoted to Latin-American music.

Contemporary Cuban composer Leo Brouwer's "Rite of the Orishas" is a mysterious piece which, to some, seems dark and foreboding. It may appeal to aficionados, but Saturday's audience did not seem to know what to make of it.

By contrast, the "Prelude from Suite 2" by the same composer set a light, airy tone, and ensuing selections by Ernesto Lecuona (1886-1963; "Cuba's George Gershwin," says Barrueco) and Manuel Ponce (1882-1948) were achingly beautiful.

Barrueco closed out the program with two electrifying pieces -- "Brazilian Dance" by Radames Gnattali (1906-1988) and "The Death of the Angel" by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). Numerous curtain calls and two encores were evidence of the audience's appreciation of an artist who has few peers in his chosen field.

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