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Pablo Menéndez — “Esencia” (QTV Classics)

These are confusing times in which terms like "intersectionality," "transparency," or "identity" are imposed in the critical discourse of the Academy. In all sincerity, this discourse is welcome and present within the first album by guitar player Pablo Menéndez (Spain, 1992).
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—What are you looking for in an album that includes works by the foremost Spanish guitar geniuses from the 19th century to today?
—The essence.

This 2000 album contains the spirit of the Spanish guitar without artifice. Performances of works by Sor, Pujol and Rodrigo form a hypothesis (and this time, we can say that there is only one truth): the root — the beginning of everything, is in the sound. And that is the only reasonable discourse to describe Menéndez’s work: the sound of a Spanish guitar (spruce top) is a true gift for the ears. It contains smoothness, clarity, luminosity, and personality.

We know that Pablo Menéndez’s training has been at a high level: Socías, Marchione, Duro or Bernier[1]UPO (July 22nd, 2021). Máster en Interpretación en Guitarra Clásica IV Edición. https://www.upo.es/postgrado/Master-en-Interpretacion-de-la-Guitarra-Clasica/. But, as José Luis Carmona points out, “if artistic creation is research, so is musical interpretation.” That is to say, Menéndez approaches this repertoire with wisdom and freedom by honoring the historical and stylistic context and traditions. Therefore, we notice that the music is pure. It reaches the listener thanks to the following two pillars:

  1. Careful production. An outstanding, solid, and well-studied performance would lose its soul if, in the whole recording process (from the sound recording to the mastering), there is no absolute attention to the meaning of the work or final product.
  2. Great “classical” interpretation is obliged to demonstrate (again and again) that there is a range — notated by the composer — in which the performer can move. That is why the listener can follow the musical discourse of Pablo Menéndez with great pleasure. It flows linearly, thanks to the dynamic nuances in Rodrigo’s work, the subtlety in Sor, and the necessary transparency required by Pujol.

The album begins with Sonata giocosa (1960) and Junto al Generalife (1959), by maestro Joaquín Rodrigo. After several listens, we are left with the desire to revisit them. Menéndez’s interpretation evidences a luminous and agile production without crossfades. There would be no human way to choose which movements are more dynamic and rich in nuances. But, if we were forced to, the stillness of the Andante moderato, the “rodriguesque” strumming of the Allegro, and the maestro’s very personal language in his Lento e cantabile / Allegro invite us to reflect. We ask, “how could Rodrigo have anticipated his time? Why does it sound timeless to us?” We are listening to Spanish music, in essence.

After a resounding finale, we hear the performer’s breath, beginning with a pure strumming in C major… Sor’s Andante religioso, which is part of Six airs choisis del’opera de Mozart: Il flauto magico. This work is not often performed in academic environments. It is Opus 19, published in Paris by Meissonier in 1824 — the same year that Ludwig van Beethoven finished his Ninth Symphony. We are not oblivious to the drama suffered by Mozart. If only he had endured a few more years. However, “Viennese society and his own wife turned their backs on him[2]Elias, N. (2002). Mozart: Sociología de un genio. Barcelona: Península..” Fernando Sor, who was then in exile and understood the late Wolfang well, returns to The Magic Flute and expands the concept of “variation” as a musical form beyond the limits offered by the concert guitar. Certainly, Pablo Menéndez honors the efforts of so many teachers who face the challenge of teaching nineteenth-century music from a historicist approach with a modern instrument. Once again, the performer exhibits subtlety, magic, and extraordinary mastery of musical discourse, applying his knowledge of orchestral and choral conducting, especially throughout six movements that constitute a magnificent “choral” performance.

They say that Emilio Pujol wrote the method book that Tárrega could not complete during his lifetime. The truth is that writing about Pujol here, listening to Pablo Menéndez, makes no sense at all. We should only pay attention to the diction of the musical discourse in the Tres piezas españolas (1926). The phrasing and the pulsation are magnificent — bravo! Again, there is evidence of an exceptional technical production that picks up all nuances. We cannot fail to mention the extraordinary period in which this work was published: Segovia and Miguel Llobet were already making it big in the Americas, and the generous interpretation of Guajira is a consideration by Pablo Menéndez of the concept of “cantes de ida y vuelta (roundtrip songs).” It is, in short, a celebration of Pujol’s intense career as a performer, musicologist, and composer[3]CSIC (July 22nd, 2021). Libros CSIC. Edición electrónica. http://libros.csic.es/books_autor.php?aut=%20Pujol,%20Emilio.

Speaking of offerings, Pablo Menéndez finishes his album with the famous Fantaisie élégiaque (Elegiac Fantasy) dedicated “à la mort de Madame Beslay.” We believe that we must vindicate the homage (the tombeau, the elegy) not as a lament but as the celebration of life, sublimated here in seventeen minutes full of expression. Fernando Sor approaches the end of his own existence, leaving an exceptional legacy that reached the other side of the Atlantic, even during his lifetime[4]Coldwell, R. (July 23rd, 2021) Digital Guitar Archive. Early US editions of Fernando Sor. https://www.digitalguitararchive.com/2021/06/early-us-editions-of-fernando-sor/. A legacy that is unsurpassable, together with his friend the great Dionisio Aguado, with whom he offered his last concert in 1836 (the same year he composed his Elegiac).

In conclusion, this is a solid debut album that breathes authenticity. It is aimed at two types of listeners: on the one hand, a scholar who studies, writes, researches, or teaches. This album will serve as the sound model of a Spanish guitar performed by a specialist of recognized prestige. Additionally, we must not forget that Pablo Menéndez defends his professorship at the prestigious Conservatorio Superior “Rafael Orozco” in Córdoba, Spain. The second type is the general guitar and music-loving public, who will surely enjoy a timeless sound — an authentic Spanish sound.

Website: pablomenendezguitar.es

Daniel Vissi García is the Director at the Conservatory of Music “Joaquín Turina” in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Cádiz (Spain), Professor of Music and Performing Arts (Classical Guitar), independent researcher, and recent winner of the 14th “Rosa Regás” Award (Education Council of the Government of Andalusia, Spain).

Ref.

1 UPO (July 22nd, 2021). Máster en Interpretación en Guitarra Clásica IV Edición. https://www.upo.es/postgrado/Master-en-Interpretacion-de-la-Guitarra-Clasica/
2 Elias, N. (2002). Mozart: Sociología de un genio. Barcelona: Península.
3 CSIC (July 22nd, 2021). Libros CSIC. Edición electrónica. http://libros.csic.es/books_autor.php?aut=%20Pujol,%20Emilio
4 Coldwell, R. (July 23rd, 2021) Digital Guitar Archive. Early US editions of Fernando Sor. https://www.digitalguitararchive.com/2021/06/early-us-editions-of-fernando-sor/

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