This is a guest review by William Bajzek, a Washington based guitarist.
I’ll start my review by confessing that I had originally thought of Jorge Caballero as a sort of Yamashita-wannabe, since, until I bought the Naumberg CD, all I knew about him was that he had recorded Yamashita’s Dvorak Symphony transcription and performed other pieces that I associate with Yamashita. However, when I listened to the previews of his Naumberg album on iTunes, I became an fan right away. I bought it immediately and fell in love with his transcriptions of the suites and the sensitivity with which he performed them, so I was really excited to drive down to Seattle tonight to hear him live at Benaroya Hall.
The first half of the concert began with two pieces by Mexican composer Ernesto García de León, with whom I was unfamiliar. El Viejo, a rhythmically driving piece, didn’t grab me very much; it was very chromatic in texture and at Caballero’s tempo in that hall, I felt it didn’t come across well. I’ll elaborate on that now because I’ll probably mention it again; from where I was sitting (row H), at least, the acoustics of the hall seemed to soften the attack of the guitar and consequently the faster passages, which comprised approximately 2/3rds of the first half of the concert, just didn’t sound clear. I saw David Russell from approximately the same seat a few months ago and felt the same way.
De León’s sonata was somewhat similar in texture to El Viejo, although the outer movements came in more fits and starts that I think would take most listeners a few listens to get a feel for. The slower middle movement was much more lyrical and gave Caballero more room to breathe, which, in spite of his sheer virtuosity, is where he really shines. The first half of the program finished with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C# (BWV 849) and the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue (BWV 903). It was great to hear Bach pieces that I hadn’t heard transcribed for guitar before, but the overall effect was along the lines of what I’ve already said; the prelude and both fugues were gorgeous, with tasteful use of expressive effects and tone color, while the fantasy sounded blurry. I know Philip Hii’s recording of the CF&F and feel that it somehow has both a rawness and a maturity that I didn’t hear tonight.
The second half of the program began with Caballero’s brilliant transcription of Alban Berg’s Sonata Op. 1, which I hope he will publish some day. Most likely there were some changes necessary to fit the piece on the instrument, but I have heard the original and I felt like nothing was missing from it as I listened, although I haven’t studied the piece in depth. I haven’t heard guitarists play many pieces more challenging of the audience than this one, and in fact he gave a bit of an explanation at the beginning and some ‘hints to the listener’ which was probably a wise choice. Of everything he played this evening, I found this one to be the most intense and moving work.
The show ended with a crowd-pleasing set of five short pieces by Jorge Morel followed by Estudio Sin Luz by Segovia as the encore, all lighter and more tuneful than the rest of the concert. They felt like a big sigh of relief from him, that the serious work of the evening was over and now he could relax and have some fun. I can’t help but think that he might doing better if he started off with something like that, as well; if he started off with his guard down a bit, maybe the more serious music would come across better.
I hope that Caballero continues to be someone that we can count on to bring us a different perspective on what the guitar is capable of. In a sense, he is a lot like Yamashita in that way, but a much less outlandish performer, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your perspective. His overall approach seems similar but more reserved; I think maybe he sacrifices some of the excitement in exchange for a more refined tone and I would really like to hear him really let loose. With his skill and unique vision for the guitar, I think he has absolutely nothing to lose in doing so.