Sáinz Villegas pays impassioned tribute to music of the Americas

January 24, 2019 at 11:58 am

By Andrew J. Sammut

Pablo Sáinz Villegas performs again tonight at Pickman Hall. Photo: Lisa Mazzucco

Pablo Sáinz Villegas performs again tonight at Pickman Hall. Photo: Lisa Mazzucco

“Welcome to the Americas!” announced Pablo Sáinz Villegas at his Celebrity Series of Boston recital on Wednesday night at Longy’s Pickman Hall. The guitarist is known for promoting the classical guitar repertoire of his native Spain but this concert focused on music inspired by — and inspirational to — Latin America.

Sharp attacks and pronounced rubato colored Sáinz Villegas’s playing from the start with Villa-Lobos’ Five Preludes. His style suited the first two preludes’ images of cowboys in the composer’s native Brazil and the country’s capoeiristas. Yet by the third prelude’s homage to Bach, Sáinz Villegas’s spacious sense of line began to dampen the rhythmic momentum and lyrical snap much of this music is known for. The fourth prelude’s evocations of Brazil’s indigenous people still carried an appropriate air of mystery and solemnity, while Sáinz Villegas’ hammering waltz in the fifth and final prelude might have scared off dancers.

Sáinz Villegas described Brazilian composer Luiz Bonfá’s samba Passeio no Rio as a leisurely  stroll through Rio de Janeiro — admitting afterward that things became so relaxed he did get “distracted” in the middle of the piece. Yet his range of textures, with dark rumbles, light twangs and a buttery middle range, brought plenty of color despite some loss of melodic cohesion. The bright joropo hythm of Alma llanera  (“Soul of the Plains”), Venezuela’s “official unofficial anthem,” paired well with Sáinz Villegas’s big macho chording.

The second half of the program opened with French composer Roland Dyens’ Tango en Skäi, a tongue-in-cheek take on the Argentinian dance requiring ample technique. Sáinz Villegas’s hairpin dynamics and percussive effects made for ideal theatricality. For the second unofficial anthem of the evening, the guitarist made equals of the theme and the accompaniment in Cuba’s  Guantanamera, placing the well-known national folk song alongside its guajira beat. In contrast to that rousing national ode (about a peasant or guajira woman from Guantanamo), Agustín Barrios Mangoré’s Un Sueño en la Floresta (“A Dream in the Forest”) unfurls a late Romantic aria in tremolos, rendered passionately by Sáinz Villegas before he stretched it out into increasingly abstract tones.

Three selections from Bernstein’s West Side Story made sense in terms of Sáinz Villegas’s journey through the Americas; the guitarist created unique but recognizable interpretations of “I Feel Pretty,” “Maria,” and “America.” But these tunes still seemed out of place next to the more overtly folk-influenced classical music. The playful virtuosity of Antonio Lauro’s joropo Seis por derecho (“Straight Six”) served the program and its soloist better, yet Sáinz Villegas’s sudden stops and starts marred the middle of the work, making for a slightly uneasy close to the recital.

Sáinz Villega’s unrelenting intensity occasionally overwhelmed the music but his sincerity as a musician and obvious love of this repertoire are beyond reproach. For an encore, he shared music from his own part of northern Spain through Tárrega’s Gran Jota de Concierto, celebrating a traditional courtship dance and its accompanying folk music. This grand work by the founder of the classical guitar tradition fuses flamenco, passionate melodies, challenging instrumental devices, and strumming imitations of drums. Instantly at ease, Sáinz Villega’s flowing delivery, natural attention to detail, and simple yet still varied phrasing made it the most confident performance of the night.

The program repeats 8 p.m. Thursday at Pickman Hall. celebrityseries.org; 617-482-2595.


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