Classical guitar aficionados in Boston had eagerly awaited the extraordinary, Jorge Caballero’s performance at the First Lutheran Church in Back Bay on Saturday. He’d had the honor of closing the Boston Classical Guitar Society’s Artist Series 2017-2018 season, which had included sought-after guitarists such as the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Zoran Dukic and Eliot Fisk.
Cabellero’s challenging and broad repertoire reflected in this program through the guitarist’s own arrangements of Spanish musical gems by Albeniz, Rimsky-Korsakov’s vibrant Capriccio Espagnol alongside a signature work by Bach, his Partita No. 2. Most surprisingly he included his own composition Midsummer Love Serenade (Boston Premiere) dedicated to his wife. Jorge’s deft and powerful technique shined through the opening set of Albeniz’s Suite Iberia: El Puerto. Enchanting Zapateado rhythms of 6/8 combined with 3/4 captivated the audience from the first pluck and his own transcription of the famous piano work kept surprising with dense harmonies and masterfully played artificial harmonics. He followed up with a deeply nostalgic and slightly melancholic Evocación as he impressionistically pushed and pulled his way through each phrase, constantly changing moods from minor to major and back. It was a pleasure to hear Málaga performed with great fluency and imaginative delicacy on a classical guitar, but still firmly rooted in the flamenco traditions of Spain. In the extremely challenging last number of Iberia’s set Eritaña, his somewhat rushed interpretation didn’t allow it to fully shine and listeners may have missed the subtle resonances and unique harmonies due to the fast tempo. I was nonetheless impressed by his interpretation of this well-known gem.
The interesting juxtaposition of Albeniz with Bach’s Partita for Violin No.2 makes a good case for his distinctiveness. Brahms famously remarked, “On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings.” A staple in Jorge’s repertoire, it was clear that he had completely internalized the essence of this masterful partita. Although divorced from the bowed timbre of the violin, Caballero’s interpretation displayed contrapuntal clarity and all-round electricity. Despite some minor memory slips the audience heard a phenomenal performance. I’d like to quote Jorge as it resonates with this particular piece so well: “I like to believe that music speaks for itself. People can derive their own meaning from the sounds they hear.”
The second half began with Caballero’s composition Midsummer Love Serenade which displayed his Peruvian approach to a classical guitar style. Allegro Animato reminded of Leo Brouwer’s aleatoric compositions such as Cuban Landscape with a glimpse of romanticism and wit. Andantino Animato over-flowed with a combination of nostalgic harmonies and tasteful harmonics as if bells at the Lutheran Church were resonating. Scherzo Delirante, Trio unfolded as an array of witty arpeggios and technical passages. Quasi Habanera, Nostalgico was by far my favorite movement due to the reminiscence of a sultry Spanish song without words. I couldn’t help but think of Maurice Ravel’s Vocalise-étude en forme de Habanera. Allegro Impetuoso portrayed Jorge’s magnificent control of guitar difficulties, quick bursts of apoyando passages and special harmonies. Closing movement Rapsodico, molto espressivo made the guitar gently weep in Jorge’s hands. Indeed, the unexpected and emotional ending full of dissonances and breaks helped to reflect on the whole. It’s truly an astounding achievement to present such a technically demanding and musically satisfying work for classical guitar. Kudos to Jorge Caballero!
Rimsky-Korsakov composed his admirable Capriccio Espagnol op.34 in 1887 for full orchestra. Transcribing such a masterwork of orchestration for a single instrument demands its own kind of mastery, which Jorge supplied in spades. The first movement Alborada, based on a festive Spanish dance that celebrates the rising of the sun, felt so full of gusto, trills and rasgueados, that it kept me at the edge of the seat up until the last chord. Variazioni began with a very romantic and slow melody entirely contrasting the first movement. It built up the tension with flawless tremolos and arpeggios. Alborada, the 3rd movement, is identical to the first movement, although in a different key. Scene e Canto Gitano, a typical gypsy song, suits the guitar well due to its flashy passages and flamenco guitar harmonies. It’s as if Joaquin Rodrigo would have transcribed it for guitar solo! Fandango Asturiano energized with another dance from Northern Spain. The audience went wild demanding an encore; Cabellero complied with a staple in classical guitar repertoire, Francisco Tarrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra.
For more information on the Boston Classical Guitar Society including upcoming concerts, please visit www.bostonguitar.org.