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I’m always striving to broaden my musical horizons,
especially where new composers are concerned. Anyone
else with similar intentions will want to check out
“From the Jungles of Paraguay: John Williams Plays
Barrios,” a 1994 CD release under the Sony Classics label.

Agustín Pío Barrios (1885-1944) was born in Paraguay
and began his studies there, establishing himself as a
young guitar prodigy. While also embracing aspects of
culture beyond music, Barrios soon began to compose,
record and concertize with his instrument. Although he
occupied himself with these activities primarily in Latin
American countries for the remainder of his life, he did
visit Europe during the mid 1930’s. His last few years
were spent teaching in El Salvador, yet he never ceased
to perform and compose, ultimately producing more
than 300 guitar works. Sadly, many of these pieces
have not survived. It’s no surprise that the style of this
music was inspired by his homeland and surrounding
countries, and Barrios didn’t hesitate to incorporate
many “popular” sounds into his works and performances.
As such, his music evinced both sophistication and
mass appeal, while simultaneously contributing to the
available Classical guitar literature.

Guitarist John Williams (1941 – ) clarified the
aforementioned points in his essay, which accompanied
this disc. The CD contains a generous helping (17) of
Barrios’ works, ranging from the short “Preludio en Do
menor” and “Aire de zamba,” to the longer and more
ambitious “La Catedral,” which is considered to be one
of his masterpieces. The disc also features Barrios pieces
in Waltz and Mazurka forms, and his “Cueca” and
“Aconquija” even call for drumming sounds on the body
of the instrument. Williams does this music proud with
his idiomatic playing, providing me with a great
introduction to the works of this genius, which
unfortunately have been marginalized. The Sony recording
engineers have also done a fine job of capturing these
performances, using 20-bit technology. Guitar lovers
in particular should check out this disc, as I believe it
deserves the highest marks.

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