One week from today the Erato label will release Leyendas (legends), the debut album of the 22-year-old guitarist Thibaut Garcia. As is usually the case, Amazon.com is currently taking pre-orders for the new album. That release will anticipate a United States tour that will involve over 60 concerts, master classes, and outreach programs and will include a concert at Carnegie Hall on March 15.
As is almost always the case, the album is a combination of original compositions for guitar and arrangements. The most familiar of the originals is Francisco Tárrega’s “Recuerdos de la Alhambra,” which probably now has the well-earned reputation of being the hoop through which all aspiring guitarists must jump. Less familiar but, as a result, a bit more fascinating for those familiar with the guitar repertoire, is Joaquín Rodrigo’s solo composition “Invocación y danza” (invocation and dance), which he wrote as an homage to Manuel de Falla. The least familiar composer will probably be Antonio Jiménez Manjón, a Spanish contemporary of Isaac Albéniz, who moved to Buenos Aires. Garcia performs his Opus 19 “Aire vasco” (Basque melody), which he published after his move to Argentina.
These original works offer some interesting connections to the arrangements. Rodrigo’s Falla homage follows an arrangement of one of that composer’s most popular pieces, his settings of seven Spanish folksongs. These were composed for voice and piano in 1914. They were arranged by guitar by Miguel Llobet but then revised as a duo for guitar and cello by Emilio Pujol. This latter is the version that Garcia plays along with cellist Edgar Moreau. Manjón’s contemporary Albéniz, on the other hand, is represented by two of the eight pieces in his Opus 47 Suite española (Spanish suite) for solo piano. The arrangement of “Asturias,” which would later show up in Albéniz’ Opus 71 Recuerdos de viaje (travel memories) as “Leyenda,” is by Olivier Chassain, while “Sevilla” is a joint arrangement by Tárrega and Llobet.
On the other hand it turns out that Manjón died in Buenos Aires about two years before Astor Piazzolla was born. This “forward pass” is recognized through the most recent compositions on the album, the four pieces that Piazzolla collected under the title Estaciones Porteñas (usually translated into English as “the four seasons of Buenos Aires”). These were written separately between 1965 and 1970 for Piazzolla’s quintet consisting of violin (or viola), piano, electric guitar, bass, and bandoneon (Piazzolla’s instrument). The solo guitar arrangements were prepared by Sérgio Assad and are usually performed in the chronological order of the seasons, rather than the order in which Piazzolla first composed them.
Garcia’s technique is consistently solid across this wide diversity of compositional styles. The Falla arrangement is particularly convincing, probably because so much of what the composer had written for piano involved imitations of familiar guitar tropes. However, those who know this music in its original version will also be struck by the evocation of vocal rhetoric that emerges from Moreau’s cello work.
Nevertheless, the guitar repertoire has been making some bold strides into modernity. My home town of San Francisco has become one of the better places to be for those interested in that “bleeding edge” of guitar music. This is due in no small part to Assad’s presence of the Guitar Faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, but he is far from the only adventurous influence on the new generation of guitarists. (Consider, for example, the account of a performance involving three electric guitars written earlier today.) It is understandable that Garcia would want to introduce himself on the Erato label with a basically “mainstream” repertoire; but I, for one, would like to see if and when his repertoire will expand to the tenor of the times.