It's difficult to know where to begin in describing Manuel Barrueco's recital Sunday on the bare stage of Memorial Hall at Chapman University. The veteran Cuban guitarist did so many things right, and a mere report wouldn't do him justice.
The results, it's safe to say, were magical. In a strong program, sponsored by the Orange County Guitar Circle, of mostly mainstream, mostly Spanish music, Barrueco gave an object lesson in music making on the guitar for an appreciative audience.
Subtle persuasion, not dazzling fireworks, was his method. To open, he played the Suite No. 7 by Silvius Leopold Weiss with such soft grace and pointed detail that these little Baroque dances lit up vividly.
Cicero himself might have learned something from the way Barrueco played Granados' "Zarabanda" and Turina's Sonata, the ebb and flow, light and shadow, whisper and thunder of their arguments perfectly gauged to draw the listener in.
In Sor's Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Barrueco's guitar turned into a singing instrument, as he used strategically placed vibrato and glowing tone to create smooth, curved melody.
Within this musician's small but purposefully controlled dynamic range, Albeniz's "Asturias" became not a raging fire, as some guitarists would have it, but a poem of quiet urgency, all the more effective for being suggestive rather than explicit.
Among all this great music--at least, Barrueco made it sound that way--Chick Corea's "Sometime Ago" couldn't be saved from its own tired use of Spanish-music cliches, though as a display of his technical accomplishment, it served the guitarist well enough.
In encore, Albeniz's Tango in D sounded anything but cliched, in a poised and seductive reading.