There are numerous examples of musicians who demonstrate unique affinity for the music of fellow-countrymen; this recording is a case in point. A re-release of music recorded in 1998, it originally appeared on the Dorian label.
Paraguayan-born Berta Rojas displays the same sort of empathy and understanding with music by Barrios that Alirio Diaz manifests with the Venezuelan waltzes of Antonio Lauro. The liner-notes contain little information about Rojas and her personal website is no more illuminative. Rojas was born in Ascencion, Paraguay and commenced guitar studies aged seven. At age 19 she decided to become a fulltime professional guitarist. Her first guitar teacher in Paraguay was Felipe Sosa. She also studied with Violete de Mestral, and then in Uruguay with Eduardo Fernandez and Abel Carlevaro. At the Peabody Conservatorium in Baltimore she obtained a Master's Degree in Music with honours, and a Graduate Performance Diploma. Rojas is currently Professor of Guitar at the George Washington University in
Agustin Barrios was described by guitarist John Williams as 'the greatest composer of guitar music ever.' Some feel that it takes a very special person to write music of this calibre: not just of high intellect and creativity but also one gifted with understanding and love of their fellow-man. Barrios was all that and more. His very last composition, La Ultima Cancion, written just before he died, was inspired by an old woman beggar who called at his home in San Salvador. The full title, Una Limosna por le Amor de Dios - An Alm for the Love of God - is what was asked of him. Unable to give money, he gave a commitment to write a piece of music inspired by the mendicant. In this tremolo composition the lower voice contains a motif, unaltered throughout the music that is said to symbolize the 'knocking on the door' of the beggar. The priest who attended Barrios when he died said that it was the first time he had 'witnessed the death of a saint'.
Unable to give anything of monetary value, another great composer of guitar music also made a gift of a tremolo composition. It was to doña Concha on the occasion of her birthday in 1899 that Francisco Tarrega gave his Recuerdos de la Alhambra. In 1917 Barrios discovered the works of Tarrega and this inspired him to begin composing some of his best works. Some years later he wrote 'Variations on a Theme of Tarrega' - one of his most technically demanding pieces. Paying homage to Tarrega's Lagrima, it comprises six variations and demonstrates Barrios's mastery of guitar technique and composition. It is a good example of his most mature writing.
There is no shortage of excellent recordings that capably present the music of Barrios. Although not the first to record Barrios, in 1977 John Williams was the first to release a complete album of his compositions. A decade earlier, the Spanish master Jose Luis Gonzalez Julia had recorded several pieces. Around the same time Laurindo Almeida recorded Op. 8 No.4, a version that compares favourably with anything subsequently recorded.
Berta Rojas is a master guitarist who displays outstanding technical and musical capabilities in this recording. Her feeling for the music imbues these interpretations with qualities that reflect what one imagines Barrios originally intended. Precisely what he intended is not always discernable from the score. Tardy in writing down his compositions, in recital he often deviated from the original. Those familiar with modern recordings and available scores of Danza Paraguaya (19) will note significant differences in the rendition presented here. Rojas has tried to authenticate her interpretations by listening to Barrios's original recordings, which he made as early as 1908 and was the first classical guitarist to do so.
The qualities of Barrios are aurally conveyed to us through the music by Rojas: love of beauty, goodness, spirituality and love itself. There is great tenderness in some of the interpretations but Rojas is capable of chameleon-like swings in mood as required in La Catedral, and the transition from Choro da Saudade to Las Abejas.
Her tremolo is as smooth as glass and the often remarkably challenging technical components of the music are disguised by formidable technique, making them seem non-existent. Overlaying all this is a sonorous tone complemented by a guitar from the hands of Robert Ruck - except (4) where she uses an instrument by Michael O'Leary.
Not to be missed if the original release escaped you.